Violence Against Women in Elections and the Representation of Women in Haitian Politics
Women comprise almost 53 percent of the population in Haiti. Yet, this numeric majority does not translate into effective political representation. Only three seats out of the 119 in the Chamber of Deputies are currently occupied by women. In the Senate, there is only one woman among the 30 senators. These figures place Haiti in the uncomfortable 185th position in the Inter-Parliamentary Union's ranking by women's representation in parliament.
The reasons for women's weak representation in Haitian politics are deeply rooted in social norms and the widespread incidence of violence against women in elections (VAWE), which the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) defines as "any harm or threat of harm committed against women with the intent and/or impact of interfering with their free and equal participation in the electoral process during the electoral period."
Oftentimes, VAWE is subtle and more indirect than physical attacks against voters and candidates, but it nonetheless impacts women's interest and willingness to get involved in political processes and structures of governance. The threats and social stigmas they face are associated not only with the act of voting, but with many other activities that are a common part of a free and fair democratic experience. For example, although a clear majority of Haitian women report that they feel free to exercise their right to vote, a much lower number of them feel free to express their opinions in public, affiliate with the party of their choice, or even leave the house without permission.
To document the nature and impact of VAWE in Haiti, IFES has produced Violence Against Women in Elections in Haiti: An IFES Assessment. The assessment establishes the historical context for violence and women’s political participation and defines the cultural and socio-political norms that impact the status of women in society as well as their participation in the electoral process. The study also looks at community and institutional responses to the issue. Through a combination of fieldwork and desk research, this assessment represents over 18 months of collected research on the status of VAWE in Haiti today. It also provides recommendations for stakeholders engaged in promoting women’s political participation and ending VAWE at all levels of civic participation.
Since 2015, IFES has been working with Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council to advance a National Gender Strategy to mainstream gender-sensitive legislation and practices that contribute to increased participation, influence, and representation of women in political processes and governance structures. IFES also seeks to increase the number of women as voters, candidates, political party representatives, and civil society members. With its work on gender inclusiveness in Haiti and around the world, IFES focuses on the empowerment of women as a crucial component of healthy and resilient democracies.
The assessment was coordinated with support from the United States Agency for International Development.