US Groups Rally to Support Haitian Women Haitian Expatriates and Americans Try to Revitalize Activities Repressed by the Military Regime Series: Waving a Flyer Promoting Haiti President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Woman Honors Former Justice Minister Guy Mallory in a Port-Au-Prince Church on the Anniversary of His Murder Oct. 14. Aristide's Return to Power Has Prompted Renewed Activity by Haitian Women's Groups There and in the US.; 2)CAP HATIEN, HAITI: A Haitian Woman Stands near a Clothesline in Cap-Haitien, 150 Miles North of Port-Au-Prince. Educational Opportunities in the Nation Are Dominated by Men, Especially in the Countryside., ROBERT HARBISON - STAFF

Article excerpt

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 Nations-sponsored embargoes.

"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 Aristide's government.

HAITIWomen's work is only the latest effort in mobilizing support for Haitian women within the United States. …


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