As the aftermath of the first round of Haitian elections unfolds, I am again struck by the scope and breadth of all of Haiti’s challenges, including those of electing a responsive government, rebuilding after the January 12, 2009 earthquake, fighting cholera and responding to extreme weather. Reconstruction and rebuilding Haiti are about a better future, but they are also about power sharing, how decisions get made and the impact of those decisions on all Haitians, particularly those who are the most vulnerable, which includes women and children. A functioning government is a key step, and there must be a Haitian government that can guide the redevelopment process and the priorities for expenditures. That government must not only respond to the needs of women, it must include them.
As a result, women must be among those providing vision and implementing it. One of the two candidates in the runoff for president of Haiti is a woman, former Senator Mirlande Manigat, the wife of former Haitian president Leslie FranĢ¤ois Manigat, who served as president for four months in 1988. She received 31% of the vote among a 19 person field, and there appears to be no question that she earned her place in the runoff.
It is also important that we not lose sight of the importance of women in the Haitian parliament, which has critical power. Currently, six of Haiti’s 129 parliamentarians are women (about 4.1%). While 45 women ran for the lower house of parliament and 8 women ran for the Senate, it looks as though there are again six women who have either been elected outright or who are in runoffs. See http://femmescandidates.centerblog.net/ for information on these candidates. While it is disappointing that it doesn’t appear the number of women in parliament will increase, it is critical that the number not decrease in this pivotal time.
It is common sense that if women aren’t at the decision making and policy formulation tables and meetings, the needs of women won’t be addressed in the most comprehensive way possible. At the same time, according to a recent World Bank study, increasing the number of women in government has an impact on decreasing corruption. Women aren’t necessarily a panacea, and this election will not solve long standing problems in Haiti, or those that have arisen out of the myriad of recent problems. But it is important that women are part of this process, and that they have the ability to have real input into decisions that are made which affect their daily lives as well as their long term future. Especially in a place like Haiti, where there are incredible division between rich and poor, urban and rural, we all need to pay attention to ensuring that the people who govern reflect all of those perspectives.