The Queen of My Self

The Queen of My Self

Haiti’s Fallen Queens

posted by Donna Henes

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.

Myriam Merlet
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.

Magalie Marcelin
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
Political Organizer

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 thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

         

 

More Creole Queens

posted by Donna Henes

Two more inspiring Creole Queens:

Esther Boucicault
HIV/AIDS Activist

Born in Saint-Marc in 1960, Boucicault was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1995. Following the AIDS death of her husband and her son, who was born HIV positive, she decided to dedicate herself to saving others from the same fate.

In December 1998 she was interviewed on a private TV station about her illness. This was the first time in Haiti that a person with HIV/AIDS had gone public in such a way. Her testimony provoked a scandal in Saint-Marc, and she endured the hostility of the families of both her first and second husband.

Undeterred by the scorn, Boucicault has established a foundation to work to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and provide medical and psychological aid to those carrying the virus.

Accompanied by health professionals, she tours Haitian towns giving information and advice to young people. She encourages the use of condoms, believing that even though this is contrary to Catholic religious morals, it is more important to speak frankly to adolescents about the dangers they face in a country where more than 5% of adults are HIV positive.

Following Boucicault’s example, others with HIV/AIDS have come into the open, and in 1999 a number of them got together to form the National Solidarity Association. Today, no anti-AIDS campaign takes place without them. Young and old come to hear them speak, and there is no longer the outrage that such public discussion once provoked.

“Things have changed a great deal,” she said of the decade since she disclosed her status. “For example, there was a survey in Haiti that showed that most people wouldn’t need to keep it a secret if a member of their family had HIV/AIDS. It’s no longer this super illness where the victim must be isolated from the rest of the world.”
 
Rose Anne Auguste
Nurse, Social Worker, Human Rights Activist

Marie Carmèle Rose-Anne Auguste  was born in 1963, in Jérémie, During the 1970s, she attended the Pressoir Jerome School in Jérémie, and later studied at Port-au-Prince’s Lucien Hibert College, where she received her baccalaureate in 1984. She went on to study at the national School of Nursing, getting her diploma in 1988, and while there she set up a nurses’ student union.

Auguste then worked for a variety of non-governmental organizations in central Haiti, but was in Port-au-Prince at the time of the 1991 military coup. She risked her personal safety to rescue patients at the general hospital when soldiers came to finish off those wounded while resisting the coup.

In 1992, with help from Partners in Health she founded the Women’s Health Clinic located in a heavily-populated hillside shantytown to the south of the capital. Originally only meant for women, it grew to treat more than 200 women, men, and children each day.

Auguste has also provided counseling for female victims of gang beatings and rape. In 1994, she received the Reebok Human Rights Award, which she later donated to Partners in Health in support of destitute women in Haiti.

Auguste remains outspoken about Haiti’s legacy of poverty and violence, reporting human rights abuses to international organizations and working to make the local healthcare system more responsive to victims of repression. She was one of 1000 women worldwide proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

I firmly believe that the overwhelming majority of women need to fight with determination against social inequalities.
- Rose Anne Auguste

***
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

 

Creole Queens

posted by Donna Henes

Here are two of the Queens of Haiti who walk in the footsteps of Queen Anacaona:

Yvonne Hakim Rimpel
Feminist, Journalist

Born in Port-au-Prince in 1906, Rimpel was a founder of the first Haitian feminist organization, the Women’s League for Social Action. It was founded in 1934 by a group of women intellectuals, professionals and activists from the middle and upper classes, and played an important role in politics for the next 25 years, focusing mainly on legal rights: suffrage, access to education, violence against women  and equality for married women. In 1951, she founded Escale, a bi-weekly news revue, and for six years she was its director, driving force and main editor.

The Constitution of 1950 gave women a limited right to vote (with their husbands’ permission), but it was not until 1957 that they obtained full equal suffrage.

Queen Rimpel supported Louis Déjoie in the presidential election that year and was an active participant in the electoral campaign. When François Duvalier emerged as winner, she criticized the  manipulative engineering of his victory.

On the night of January  5th 1958, the vicious dictator Duvalier sent a group of masked men to Rimpel’s house. They dragged her off into the night. The next morning she was found lying naked in a street in Petionville, beaten unconscious, covered in blood, and probably raped. After two months in hospital, she recovered, but she never wrote again. She maintained her silence until her death in June 1986.

Marie Chauvet
Novelist

The best known and most prolific of Haiti’s female novelists, Marie Chauvet was born in Port-au-Prince in 1917. Her first novel, Fille D’Haiti (1953), about the mulatto daughter of a prostitute who tries to escape her origins in the hypocritical world of the Haitian elite, was awarded the Prix de l’Alliance Francaise. La Danse sur le Volcan (1957), depicting the events leading up to the Haitian Revolution, was translated into English and Dutch.

Chauvet’s most famous work, the trilogy of novellas, Amour, Colere et Folie, was published in Paris in 1968. The author was unable to return to Haiti from France because the novel dealt with the behavior of corrupt Duvalierist officials and the sadistic Tontons Macoutes. Her husband begged her not to publish it, and when she did over his objections, he not only left her, but also bought and destroyed all the copies of the book sent to Haiti. She died in exile in New York in 1975, and was only awarded national honors after the end of the Duvalier dictatorship. Amour, Colere et Folie was released in English in 2009. 

***
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

 

Golden Flower Queen of Hispaniola

posted by Donna Henes

All eyes have been on Haiti of late six months after the deadly earthquake. Our hearts go out to those who have lost so much, especially those who had so very little to begin with. Many of us have thought of Haiti as being a desperately poor, severely undeveloped, politically corrupt and brutal, socially unstable and environmentally devastated place.

While all of these things are true, Haiti has always been a country rich in natural beauty, cultural uniqueness and well deserved pride. Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America and the first black-led republic in the world when it gained independence as part of a successful slave rebellion in 1804.  

Perhaps the most valuable Haitian treasure is the generation upon generation of strong willed, out-spoken, effective, ethical and influential women leaders starting with Anacaona, Queen of Hispanola

Anacaona, or Golden Flower, was born in 1464 in Yaguana (today the town of Léogâne), the flourishing capital of Xaragua, the most prosperous and heavily populated of the indigenous Taino kingdoms at the time of the European invasion. Her brother and later her husband were two of the five most powerful chiefs. And she, herself, had a powerful matrilineal heritage. Anacaona and her brother Bohechio negotiated as a team with Columbus when he demanded tribute from the local tribes. Their talks were friendly and successful.

She became Queen of Xaragua after her brother’s death. Her husband Caonabo, suspected of having organized the attack on La Navidad, the Spanish settlement on northern Haiti, was captured and shipped to Spain, dying in a shipwreck during the journey.

Queen Anacaona was widely admired for the ballads, ballets, poetry and plays that she composed as well as for the elegance of her court. Her realm of Xaragua was the only Taino territory on the island that had not succumbed to Spanish conquest.

in 1502 a new Spanish governor arrived with some 2500 troops. He requested a meeting with Anacaona, and, in 1503, the Queen and chieftains of the province prepared a lavish reception for him and his men. In the middle of the entertainment, the governor gave a signal, and the Spanish seized the Xaraguayans, tied them to poles and killed them. Eighty Taino leaders were slaughtered. Anacaona was saved but was captured, and in September 1503 she was taken to Santo Domingo where she was hung.

Queen Anacaona is still very much revered in Haiti, where she is considered to be a primordial founder of their country. Immortalized in the intertwining histories of both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, many places in both countries bear her name. The renowned Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat wrote Anacaona Golden Flower, an award-winning novel in dedication to the fallen chief.

Anacaona, captive-bred Indian
Anacaona, the primitive region
Anacaona, I heard your voice
As she wept as she moaned

I heard Anacaona
From your anguished heart
Your freedom never came…

- From a song by Cheo Feliciano

***
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

 

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