LILIAN MAURICE flits from friend to friend, wearing a loose
white dress with the word "Haiti" stitched across the front.
She embraces one person, giggling. With another, she ex-changes
a kiss on the cheek and a few words in Creole. Covering her head is
a traditional Haitian scarf. Though Ms. Maurice has been in Boston
since March, Haiti is never far from her heart.
But Haiti has not been kind to Maurice. Because she founded a
youth organization in Port-au-Prince and helped unemployed women,
she was arrested four times in two years by the military
government. Maurice was beaten and raped by the police. She lived
in hiding off and on from November 1991 until seeking refuge in
Boston last spring.
Marie Josa St. Firmin's story is similar. After attending a
ceremony marking the anniversary of the death of a murdered friend
in 1991, Ms. St. Firmin was followed home by the military. She
fled. Her mother was arrested, beaten, and held for 22 days, St.
Firmin says. "They kicked the kids. Then they locked the house and
left the kids on the street," she says.
Death threats didn't halt Rose-Anne Auguste either. Ms. Auguste,
a nurse, will receive one of four Reebok Human Rights Awards on
Dec. 7 for her work teaching and treating Haitians in one of the
worst neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince. She puts in 12-hour days,
tending to her patients in their crowded shanties.
These women were among hundreds who gathered at a conference at
Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., Nov. 5 to discuss justice
and empowerment for women in Haiti.
And like the majority of Haiti's approximately 3.6 million
women, these three have not escaped the repression brought on by
the military junta that ruled Haiti for the last three years or the
effects of poverty, exacerbated by United States- and United
"Women are prisoners in Haitian society," says Marie Andrine
Constant, vice consul at Haiti's Boston consulate, a member of the
Haitian women's group Kay Fanm before she moved to Boston in July.
But these women are not disheartened. "You see that people keep
on fighting," Ms. Constant says.
And they are not alone. Last July, a group of about 40 women in
Boston gathered to raise awareness and help combat the violence
against women in Haiti, calling themselves "HaitiWomen." As
summer turned to fall, the island nation's military junta was
deposed, and the country's first democratically elected president,
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, returned.
Dessima Williams, the group's founder and chairwoman, saw
President Aristide's return as her chance to ensure that Haitian
women's needs would be addressed with the country's restructuring.
HAITIWomen's top priority was to convene the Nov. 5 conference
where women living in Haiti shared ideas with other women from
Canada, New York, and New England. HAITIWomen now plans to draft a
report on the participants' recommendations and present it to
HAITIWomen's work is only the latest effort in mobilizing
support for Haitian women within the United States. …