"Haitian women, let us rise up to organize and fight against misery. Let us strike down the forces of division that chain us down and prevent us from recognizing the worth of our country. We must destroy division so that both men and women join hands to rebuild Haiti. Thus, our children and grand children will have a beautiful prosperous country that will once again be the pearl of the Antilles."
Réa Dol, Director and Co-Founder of SOPUDEP
Many, many women in Haiti are victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and discrimination. 70% of women in Haiti are the sole providers for their children as boyfriends or husbands often simply leave or have other families and cannot provide support.
Since the earthquake of January 12, 2010, 1.5 million people have been living in makeshift camps, which has intensified the hardships of everyday life, and the frustration among camp residents is rising. Due to a lack of security in the camps, abuses suffered by women are rising and there are a number of reports of girls as young as four being raped. The population blames this on the lack of government support that should be there to help get them out of these camps or at the very least be providing proper shelter, food and security for them while they are there.
Food tickets that have been handed out in these camps or in the community since the quake are generally given to men to distribute. After tickets are given to friends and family, these men trade tickets to desperate women for sexual favors. Réa describes first-hand accounts of such crimes committed against women she knows in her neighborhood and in the camps she visits. When tickets are given to a family, it is also the women who must stand in the hot sun for hours waiting to get these rations.
This is why Réa started the micro-credit program for her women's group in March of 2010! Women able to make their own work will be able to avoid these stifling lines, won't have to give their bodies for food in a moment of desperation and may find a way to support their children with absent husbands or boyfriends, or a way to leave abusive ones. Réa said the idea came to her in the middle of the night: a vision of how to get her women working and back into Haiti's economy.
Réa had organized a women's march in the streets of Port-au-Prince for International Women's Day. After the march she received a call from a British organization by the name of "Global Women's Strike". They have an event called Mothers March and wanted to represent Haitian women. During the event, the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund (HERF) gave Réa a contribution of $1500 to feed her women. She asked her women, "Do you want food, which will be gone in a couple weeks, or do you want me to start a program so you can work?" The group of five hundred women unanimously decided that they would stay hungry in order to be able to work to provide for their families.
On March 23 2010, Rea started Fam SOPUDEP an Aksyon (Women of SOPUDEP in Action) and gave twenty women 2500 gourds ($63.00 US) each to buy products from a wholesaler to sell in the market and on the street. These women come from six different women's organizations around Port-au-Prince of which each has a group leader - MOJUB, COSODEP, Le PHARE, EDIH, ROZO, and SOPUDEP PARENTS. The first thirty women paid back their 2500 gourds in September and the money was passed on to the next group of women. From the inception of the micro-credit project in March 2010 to January 2011, more than 150 women and men have been put into a job because of this program.
Réa is realistic about the initial impact of the micro-credit program. She knows that it is a way for these women to get their foot in the door. The take-home pay for them is still relatively small, but they can buy a bag of rice or a loaf of bread for their families, which is much more than they could do before. The plan is to grow these women's businesses over time and throughout the city with the hopes of stimulating neighborhood economies.
The first group of women paid back their initial investment of 2500 gourds per person in August of 2010, Rea then gave that first group a larger investment so they could bring in more product and thus generate bigger profits. When that is paid back it will be circulated to the next group and so on...
The agreement is that the women must pay back at least 250 gourds ($6.25) in the first fifteen days and the full 2500 gourds in six months with interest at 10%. When a woman enters the micro-credit program, the group leaders open a bank account for her. As she pays back her loan, the interest is put into her account. After two years of accumulating interest, a general assembly of all micro-credit members will be held, women will be given access to their accounts and they can decide how to expand their business or help their families. Réa wants her micro-credit group to eventually take the form of a cooperative, whereby these women would own businesses as a collective. There are even plans for an agricultural co-op utilizing her family's land in Jeremy.
This program is working at ground zero for Haiti's economy in what is referred to as the "informal market". Officially the unemployment rate in Haiti is around 75%, but it does not account for the shoe shiner, the woman selling soda or the man pushing a wheelbarrow of sugar cane to the market. This type of work amounts to a $16 trillion-a-year economy globally, and $11 trillion of that is generated by women. These informal economies extend into every village and neighborhood in Haiti and Réa, as well as many others, understand that the bolstering of these micro-economies is critical to Haiti's people in the long term.