A group of women participating in a training program offered by Fanm Deside in Jacmel, Haiti. Photo by Reginald Louissaint.

Empowering Women in Haiti: The Story of Fanm Deside

Stories

Empowering Women in Haiti:
The Story of Fanm Deside

June 22, 2023 | Ayiti Demen

For over three decades, Fanm Deside has worked to support Haitian women in the South of Haiti by advocating for violence survivors, promoting financial independence, and providing education and training.

A group of women participating in a training program offered by Fanm Deside in Jacmel, Haiti. Photo by Reginald Louissaint.

In the summer of 2021, a devastating earthquake followed by a destructive hurricane struck southern Haiti, leaving Marline Joseph, a 37-year-old mother of three, unemployed and struggling to rebuild her life after her home collapsed. In the midst of this despair, Marline found a ray of hope in organizations like Fanm Deside (Women Decide).

Marline reached out to Fanm Deside for help, and the organization responded by offering her vital financial assistance. “The money they provided allowed me to buy food and maintain my household during these difficult times,” she says with a sense of relief and gratitude.

A catalyst for change

Originally established in 1989 as “Fanm Deside Mete Tet Ansam” (Women Decide to Stand Together), Fanm Deside was founded by ten Haitian women and three Canadian nuns who shared a common belief in the power of women to effect positive change. Rooted in Jacmel, a town in the southeast side of Haiti, the organization set out on a mission to transform the lives of women in the country.

Marie-Ange Noel, Coordinator of Fanm Deside. Photo by Reginald Louissaint

“Our goal is to transform the lives of women in our society.”

– Marie-Ange Noel, Coordinator of Fanm Deside

Marie-Ange Noel, who has been involved with Fanm Deside since 1992, first as an animator and now as coordinator, explains the organization’s vision: “Our goal is to transform the lives of women in our society.” Her strong dedication to women’s rights was shaped by her own experiences within her family and community, where she witnessed inequality and recognized the urgent need for transformative action.

Supporting survivors of violence

At the heart of Fanm Deside‘s work lies a commitment to supporting survivors of violence, including sexual, physical, and spousal abuse. “Our trained supporters provide personalized assistance based on the survivor’s preferences,” says Nathalie Cadet, the administrator of Fanm Deside, explaining the organization’s approach. 

She continues, “In cases of physical or sexual abuse, we ensure they [survivors] receive immediate medical attention and obtain a medical certificate. If desired, we can assist with legal action, as we collaborate with a legal team to handle the legal aspects.”

Furthermore, Fanm Deside provides a safe haven where survivors can share their experiences and offers temporary shelter as a space for healing and the opportunity to rebuild their lives.

Educating for lasting change

Fanm Deside is also instrumental in helping women achieve financial independence. Its support includes the provision of funds for activities related to agriculture, livestock, storage, gardening, and the promotion of solidarity among women. 

“We don’t just hand them [women] cash, we actually show them how to make the most of it.”

– Nathalie Cadet, Administrator of Fanm Deside 


A group of women attending a training program offered by Fanm Deside, Nathalie Cadet, Administrator of Fanm Deside | photo by Reginald Louissaint

With a grant from the FOKAL-Haiti Relief Fund after the 2021 hurricane, Fanm Deside implemented a program that benefited 160 women, some of whom received financial assistance to create economic activities. “We don’t just hand them cash, says Nathalie, we actually show them how to make the most of it. We also promote this cool thing called mutual solidarity, where they learn to save some of their earnings. It’s not just about benefiting the women themselves, but it also has a positive impact on their entire families.”

Education is an important part in what Fanm Deside is doing. In addition to assisting in paying school tuition fees for some women, the organization offers various training programs designed to enhance personal development and empower women to make positive changes in their communities. 

Marline has been an active participant in the organization’s activities, including culinary workshops and literacy training, for the past three years. She speaks proudly of her expertise in traditional Haitian cuisine: “I can make ginger powder, grated ginger, ‘pomad’, ‘kremas’, and even coffee and chocolate. […] I have acquired all these skills through Fanm Deside‘s programs.”

Marline Joseph, one of the 2021 earthquake survivors helped by Fanm Deside's financial and training programs | Photo by Reginald Louissaint

“I have acquired all these skills through Fanm Deside’s programs.”

– Marline Joseph, one of the 2021 earthquake survivors helped by Fanm Deside’s financial and training programs

The vision for the women in Haiti

When asked about her vision for the future of women in Haiti, Marline emphasizes the need for respect and equality in the country. She dreams of a society where women’s rights are recognized and where gender equality is not just a concept, but a reality.

Marie-Ange echoes these sentiments and stresses the importance of women’s participation in politics: “Women must have a seat at the table and actively participate in decision-making processes because their contribution is crucial.”

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Like many emerging artists in Haiti, Anaïse Hector relies on Le Centre d’Art’s free-of-charge resources and low-cost educational programs to hone her craft and build a career in visuals arts.

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Anaïse Hector, an emerging visual artist who is an active participant in Le Centre d’Art arts education program.
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Anaïse Hector, 21, is an artist at heart. She was exposed to art very early as her father used to make her watercolors full of magic. “I found the way he played with the colors fascinating,” she says. Her passion grew even more during high school years when she attended various drawing classes. But it was not until 2018 when she joined Le Centre d’Art –a vibrant hub of Haitian arts and artists located in the nation’s capital– that she became convinced of her creative potential. “I realized that art is not just a hobby for me but a form of expression, and that’s what I want to do. So I want to dedicate more time to my craft,” says Anaïse, also a psychology student. Her primary artistic activity is painting; at times, she can also get her hands on collage and sculpture. The dominant theme of her work is femininity, aiming “to free women’s body image from social norms.”

It is not easy to juggle school, art, and social life being so young, but Anaïse manages and stays focused. The biggest challenge, however, that comes her way is inadequate finances to procure painting supplies, which are very expensive for most emerging talents with low or no income. Le Centre d’Art, since its reopening in 2015, has offered a creative space, workshops, and art materials to more than 800 artists based in disciplines ranging from drawing, painting, sculpture, or even photography. “That helps me a lot when Le Centre d’Art gives me painting materials,” Anaïse says. 

One of Anaïse’s favorite parts of being part of Le Centre d’Art is the opportunity to receive mentorship from some of Haiti’s elite artists like Mario Benjamin, Tessa Mars, and Pascale Monin. “Being around them and learning from them is a big deal and an honor for me,” she said. A highlight of her journey was the moment veteran Haitian sculptor Lionel St Eloi told her while working on a painting at Le Centre d’Art facilities, “You’ll become a great artist.” That is the kind of message of hope and confidence any young artist needs to hear.

"I used to be the only woman to participate in the art workshops, but that is no longer the case."

– Anaïse Hector

Despite the daily crises raging in the country in recent years, Anaïse is hopeful for the future. She is particularly excited to see a more significant feminine presence in the art landscape. “I used to be the only woman to participate in the art workshops, but that is no longer the case” she says. The recent all-female art exhibition, Vives, hosted by Le Centre d’Art in early 2022, brought her much motivation and inspiration. Ultimately, she wishes for “more growth in the art market in Haïti so that artists can make a living entirely from their artwork.

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