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.
“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.”
“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.”