When I was thinking about Women's History Month this year, my mind kept going back to Haiti. I felt a strong need to dig into the history of the women of Haiti. As I searched for books, I kept coming back to one anthology -- Walking on Fire: Stories of Survival and Resistance.
Edited by Beverly Bell, the book is a collection of essays written by Haitian women. They are stories of survival, resistance and hope. One of the contributors to Walking on Fire was Myriam Merlet, formerly the chief of staff of Haiti's Ministry for Gender and the Rights of Women. She died in the earthquake. Eve Ensler posted a tribute to Merlet , whom she had met when she brought The Vagina Monologues to Haiti in 2001:
Despite riots and coups, she brought The Vagina Monologues to the women and girls of Port Au Prince, raising the issue of violence against women and girls in a region where women suffer some of the worst poverty and gender-based-violence in the world.
She was a leader, a warrior, a mother, and a friend.
Ensler also quoted Merlet's essay "The More People Dream" from Walking on Fire.
I look at things through the eyes of women, very conscious of the roles, limitations, and stereotypes imposed on us. Everything I do is informed by that consciousness. So I want to get to a different concept and application of power than the one that keeps women from attaining their full potential...
Shortly after the earthquake, Nicole at Uptown Literari also recommended Walking on Fire.
The women represent the full range of Haiti's ethnic and economic diversity, from Lise-Marie Dejean, former Minister of the Status and Rights of Women, to "Tibebe," the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man and a maid, who was given away and raised as a restavék, a child slave. Full of hope and the unyielding résistance that led their ancestors to rebel centuries ago, these women walked on fire and lived to tell the tale.
Kerry Sylvia reviewed Walking on Fire for Leftturn.org after it was released in 2002, and she reflected on the hope she found.
While it speaks of many atrocities, the words of women like activist Yannick Etienne reveal the hope and reality for change in Haiti, "Our history allows us to assert what we are and what we're worth, and to challenge the New World Order through revolution. I have a profound belief in the Haitian people."
Beverly Bell, the author of Walking on Fire said that for International Women's Day Haitian women would mourn the dead, but recommit to the living. One event was in memory of four feminists who died in the earthquake -- Mireille Neptune Anglade, Myriam Merlet, Magalie Marcelin, and Anne Marie Coriolan.
Not far from where the women will stand is a freshly bulldozed lot. Less than two months ago, a building which bustled with the energy of women organizing stood on the property. It was the Ministry on the Status and Rights of Women, created by former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1994. For 16 years, the ministry headquarters stood as a symbol of what women have done and can do to change their lives and those of their compatriots. Today the empty lot stands as a symbol of Haitian women's challenges and determination as they keep alive hope for their people, their country, and new paradigms of power.
Denise is right. We need to read them into history, because when we do we help them walk on fire.
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