Virtually no woman sits in the newly elected Parliament, despite the fact that Haitian women make up over half of the population and legislation demands that at least 30% of Parliament’s seats must be filled by women. Yet, across studies, gender equality greatly improves the trajectory of a country, improves the standard of living, the health status of the population, the national income, and agricultural production. These changes are obvious when you consider that gender inequality simply means that half of the country is held back from achieving their full potential and actively participating and contributing to society. The case study of Rwanda provides an excellent example of what occurs when a country decides to embrace that remaining half of the population.
Haiti and Rwanda are similar in many ways. Both countries take up nearly 11,000 square miles of land, much of which is dominated by agricultural production. Each country’s government is a declared unitary semi-presidential republic, with a President, Prime Minister, and Parliament made up of an Upper House and a Lower House. Populations are similar in size as well, each nearing 11 million, dependent upon agricultural production for their country’s GDP. Yet in terms of gender equality in their respective Parliaments, they could not be more different.
After the genocide in the 1990s upwards of one million Rwandans were killed. A majority of those dead were males, leaving a void in the halls of the government until the seats were filled with women. This demographic shift, in conjunction with a law necessitating that 24 of the 80 seats in Parliament must go to women, dramatically shifted the make up of the government.
Now, over two decades after that disaster, Rwanda has seen a number of improvements, often attributed to the increase of women in the Parliament, who are now the majority gender in the Parliament. In addition to an increasingly positive perception of women in the country, Rwanda’s economy has doubled in size and trade has increasing exponentially. The economic improvements in the country can be attributed to a number of factors but it has been noted that the female Members of Parliament took an intense interest in agricultural production in the country, working with producers to improve crop yields.
The absence of women in Haiti’s National Palace and other governing buildings has a resonating impact across a country that refers to women as poto mitan: the pillars of society. Haiti has already acknowledged the importance of women in using this phrase – Haitian women quite literally hold up their country, as pillars hold up their buildings. Haitian women are these pillars, necessary to prevent the crumbling of Haitian politics. If Haiti wants to thrive as a nation, fulfill its fullest potential, it needs to follow Rwanda’s lead and build upon these pillars, these poto mitan, Haitian women.