Two Haitian women standing together and looking into the camera with determined looks on their faces.
Image credit: Heather Suggitt on Unsplash

This article was updated on May 15, 2024.

Haiti has long dealt with political instability. The country was born out of a slave revolt when enslaved people rose up to liberate themselves from French colonial rule. This victory in the Haitian Revolution made Haiti the first independent nation of the Caribbean, the first country in the Americas to officially abolish slavery, and the only country established in the wake of a slave revolt.

The Haitian Revolution shed light on the dire need to end slavery and inspired other revolts in the Americas. It also set the stage for Haiti to become the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. In 1825, in the wake of the Haitian Revolution, as Haiti was working to establish itself as a new country, the French king at the time, Charles X, effectively ordered Haiti to pay reparations to secure its independence or face dire consequences. Forced to pay for the independence it had rightfully won, and through ongoing destabilizing intervention from foreign powers, Haiti has never fully recovered.

Though political turbulence is nothing new to the country, a new crisis has arisen in recent months.

On April 25, its prime minister, Ariel Henry, officially resigned, and a transition council was installed that will work to pick a new prime minister. This new transition comes amid rising gang violence in the country that has killed thousands of people. For the past couple of months, Henry has been locked out of the country due to gang violence, forcing him to present his resignation in a letter signed in Los Angeles.

“I realized that there were many Haitian American women who had either founded projects, had been working in Haiti, or were involved in some type of programming in Haiti.”

With Henry’s recent resignation, Haiti currently has no elected government officials. The United Nations recently estimated that over 360,000 people are displaced within the country, and millions are going hungry because key ports and supply routes are blocked.

Amid this crisis, women in the United States are stepping up to support women and girls in Haiti. Among the women leading these efforts is Carine Jocelyn, the founder of the United States-based Haitian Women’s Collective.

The Haitian Women’s Collective

Founded in 2017, the collective works to bring together Haitian women-led organizations based in Haiti. Most recently, the collective launched an emergency response fund to support Haitian women-led organizations responding to the current emergency crisis in Haiti.

Jocelyn understands that the United States has played a part in fueling the crisis in Haiti. Even though the country has an embargo on guns, gangs within the country are heavily armed—often with weapons from America. Amid the ongoing violence, the Biden administration recently restarted deportations to Haiti, which the collective has strongly denounced.

Uplifting the issues impacting Haitian people—both those living in Haiti and those living in America—is connected to Jocelyn’s day-to-day work. At her full-time job, Jocelyn is the chief executive officer of a social services organization called Diaspora Community Services in Brooklyn, NY. The organization, which was founded by Haitians in the 1980s, focuses on the needs of people living in central Brooklyn—many of whom are immigrants—and works to provide healthcare, youth development, HIV prevention, and other services. The organization also works to support people who are asylum seekers, migrants, and undocumented.

Witnessing firsthand how strong the links of the African diaspora are and working so closely with Haitian women in the United States inspired Jocelyn to take a trip to Haiti in 2014 during a sabbatical. At the time, she worked for PROFAMIL, an organization that focuses on sexual reproductive health and rights for women. Upon her return to the United States, Jocelyn saw many connections to be made between the work that was being done in the United States and the work that was being done in Haiti.

Even though the country has an embargo on guns, gangs within the country are heavily armed—often with weapons from America.

“When I came back to New York, I realized that there were many Haitian American women who had either founded projects, had been working in Haiti, or were involved in some type of programming in Haiti,” Jocelyn said in an interview with NPQ. Understanding the deep influence of Haitians—both those still living in Haiti and those living in the United States—inspired Jocelyn to bring these women and the resources and ideas they shared together to collaborate on ways to better work in Haiti. Out of this idea grew the Haitian Women’s Collective. The collective has six founding members, and as of 2024 it has about 20 partners composed of organizations that are all led by Haitian women.

Funding for a Better Future

Haiti has faced multiple crises in recent years, including the assassination of a sitting president, a devastating earthquake, rampant gang activity, and political instability for the past five years. Throughout this time, the Haitian Women’s Collective has focused on supporting the needs of those who are most vulnerable: women and girls. Amid the ongoing turmoil in Haiti, the collective has called upon the Biden administration to halt deportations.

As Jocelyn mentioned, the collective is not a direct service provider, but the partners that they work with are. These organizations in Haiti provide education, civic engagement, leadership development, midwifery, sexual and reproductive health resources, and many other services. The collective highlights the work of these organizations and uplifts the fact that local organizations should be included in critical decisions. Additionally, the collective works to connect them to capacity building, technical assistance, and funding support.

“These small organizations…know the community, understand the context of the problem, and often know the solution.”

The collective has worked with partners to provide support to enable girls to complete high school and be prepared to either matriculate into a university or pursue a vocation. Particularly after the 2021 earthquake, the collective also supported efforts to support reproductive health access for women. As Jocelyn noted, even—and especially—in a time of crisis, it is critical to be attuned to the fact that women face increased rates of gender-based violence, and still have reproductive health needs. “They still need care. They need support. We still want to provide education in the community as well,” Jocelyn said.

Jocelyn noted that the founders of the collective were intentional about creating an organization with a feminist lens focused on the needs of Haitian women and girls because women in Haiti are vastly underrepresented in decision-making positions.

Next year, the collective will launch a fund for Haitian women. Jocelyn hopes that these resources will help amplify those who are most impacted and closest to the problems in Haiti.

“Often,” she said, “these small organizations that know the community, understand the context of the problem, and often know the solution…just need either funding or capacity building or reinforcement to be involved in those decision-making processes.”