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The 2010 earthquake claimed the lives of three of Haiti’s most prominent sheroes of women’s rights. Myriam Merlet, Magalie Marcelin and Anne Marie Coriolan, founders of three of the country’s most important advocacy organizations working on behalf of women and girls, were confirmed dead.
One returned to her Haitian roots, to give voice to women, honor their stories and shape their futures. Another urged women to pack a courtroom in Haiti, where she succeeded in getting a guilty verdict against a man who battered his wife. A third joined the others and helped change the law to make rape, long a political weapon in Haiti, a punishable crime.
Author and Activist
Merlet fled Haiti in the 1970s. She studied in Canada, steeping herself in economics, women’s issues, feminist theory and political sociology. In the mid-1980s, she returned to her homeland. “I felt the need to find out who I was and where my soul was. I chose to be a Haitian woman,” she said.
She was a founder of Enfofamn, an organization that raises awareness about women through the media, collects women’s stories and works to honor their names. Among her efforts, she set out to get streets named after Haitian women who came before her.
Myriam Merlet was until recently the chief of staff of Haiti’s Ministry for Gender and the Rights of Women, established in 1995, and still served as a top adviser.
“She was very bold,” said Eve Ensler, who at Merlet’s insistence brought her play “The Vagina Monologues” to Haiti and helped establish safe houses for women in Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien. “She had an incredible vision of what was possible for Haitian women, and she lifted their spirits.”
She was 53.
Lawyer and Actress
Magalie Marcelin, who appeared in films and on stage, established Kay Fanm, a women’s rights organization that deals with domestic violence, offers services and shelter to women and makes micro loans available to women working in markets.
A shocking study of Haitian women and girls conducted by Kay Fanm right before the disaster showed that an estimated that an astounding 72 percent had been raped, and at least 40 percent of the women surveyed were victims of domestic violence.
Two years ago, Marcelin, was prosecuting a man for wife beating. Hoping to deflect the political clout of the defendant in court, she asked for women to come out in droves and pack the courtroom. The women won. The man on trial was convicted of battery.
In an interview last year with the Haitian Times, Marcelin spoke of the image of a drum that adorned Kay Fanm’s public awareness stickers. “It’s very symbolic in the Haitian cultural imagination. The sound of the drum is the sound of freedom, it’s the sound of slaves breaking with slavery.”
She was believed to be in her mid-50s.
Anne Marie Coriolan
Anne Marie Coriolan served with Merlet, as a top adviser to the women’s rights ministry. Coriolan was the founder of Solidarite Fanm Ayisyen (Solidarity with Haitian Women, or SOFA), an advocacy and services organization.
Coriolan helped bring rape — an instrument of terror and war — to the forefront of Haitian courts. Before 2005, rapes in Haiti were treated as nothing more than crimes of passion. That changed because of the collective efforts of these women activists, and the others who they inspired.
“She loved her country. She never stopped believing in Haiti. She said that when you have a dream you have to fight for it,” her daughter Wani said. “She wanted women to have equal rights. She wanted women to hold their heads high.”
She was 53.
With the three leaders gone, there is concern about the future of Haiti’s women and girls. Even with all that’s been achieved, the struggle for equality and against violence remains enormous. “The chaos that’s taken over the devastated nation heightens those worries,” warns Taina Bien-Aimé, the executive director of Equality Now, a human rights organization dedicated to women. “And humanitarian emergencies have been linked to increased violence and exploitation in the past,” she said.
Let us honor the lives and contributions of these dynamic Queens by continuing to struggle for the rights and safety of women and girls everywhere.
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.