Danielle Saint-Lot

By:Andrew Thompson Issue: Biennial of the Americas 2010 Section:The Americas Roundtables

Educating Women to be Pillars of Society

Danielle Saint Lot

It is now, in the aftermath of Haiti’s crippling earthquake that a new renaissance can surface and rebuilding can begin. Through the leadership of Danielle Saint-Lot, co-founder and President of Femmes en Democratie, a non-governmental organization and Global Network Affiliate Chapter of Vital Voices, women across Haiti can envision a life filled with better economic opportunities and hope for a more progressive view of women’s rights.

In a country where women represent 52 percent of the population, it is shocking to see a majority of their human rights squandered. Women in Haiti are usually the representative majority of household leaders, yet most do not make enough money to support their family and are the victims of horrific sex crimes. According to the U.N. Development Program’s Western Hemisphere Gender Index, because of the country's laissez-faire political stance on gender rights and equality, Haitian women rank the lowest in contraceptive use, teen-marriage and primary school enrollment.

Because of these reasons Saint-Lot has been a proponent of educational programs that will encourage and empower women within the communities of Haiti to seek training, become empowered and support not only themselves but their families as well. Through education and job creation, Saint-Lot believes that women’s lives can be greatly improved. “I focus more on economics and business in addition to human rights. We can change the face of Haiti by investing in community colleges and education — money needs to go into educational institutions,” said Saint-Lot during the Biennial of the Americas Roundtable on Poverty Reduction.

By increasing educational programs and giving women an opportunity to learn a new skill or trade, it is possible to create economic prosperity for all. Femmes en Democratie invites women to participate in workshops where they can exchange best practices and share experiences and information that can lead to consistent careers within growing industries such as agriculture, textiles, tourism and construction, where the lack of trained laborers are needed. During the Roundtable on Women: Drivers of the New Economy, Saint-Lot commented on the recent issues in Haiti, “I just want to thank America’s response to us. What happened in Haiti was about bad management. We lived without codes and rules. But we have new players in the game. Women in the camps are not waiting for aid; they are trying to go into business. The story of these women is not being shared.”

The political chasm within the small Caribbean nation allows for only five percent of their parliamentary seats to women. Because there are hardly any women holding political seats, there is nobody to be a voice for the injustices and inequalities that they face. It is the emergence of leaders like Saint-Lot who will be able to make a difference for the future of Haitian women.

As the first female minister of commerce, industry and tourism, Saint-Lot proves to be one of Haiti’s best hopes for change. Before the disaster, businesses and civic culture were "set in stone." Now the question is...what will emerge from the rubble?

While it is inevitable that Haiti will rebuild, Saint-Lot is concerned with replacing injustice with opportunity and quelling violence with newfound strength. She hopes that with reaffirmation and collective support through mentorship, women will rise above and become empowered to change their surroundings, their station, and create a Haiti where women have not only a face but a voice within their communities.