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Is Slavery To Be Blamed For Haiti’s Tragedy?

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The Caribbean island of Hispaniola is home to two countries, namely Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Both countries have an average population of 10 million, but the average Haitian is 10 times poorer than the average Dominican and more likely to be unemployed. This difference in income manifests itself in poverty and drastic disparities in health.

For instance, the infant mortality rate in Haiti is twice that of the Dominican Republic. Additionally, HIV and AIDS are more prevalent in Haiti.

Acknowledging these differences, one can ask: How did one island produce two drastically different worlds? The answer lies in both countries’ social realities, rooted in Haiti’s colonial past of slavery. Further, can Haiti’s colonial context of slavery explain the contemporary unequal dynamic?

Political Narrative Of Haiti

haiti after hurricane mathew
Representative Image. (Source: flickr)

The reason why Haiti and the Dominican Republic turned out to be so different is because of the island’s history. The island of Hispaniola used to be under Spanish rule in 1697 until the Spanish handed over the region of Haiti to the French.

The area of Saint Domingue became the wealthiest French colony. Thousands of African slaves were brought there to carry out the commercial production of sugar, coffee and cotton. The slave system carried out in Saint Domingue was considered one of the most rigid in America.

In 1791, the region witnessed a successful slave rebellion. Soon after, slavery was abolished and the nation was declared independent in 1804. Saint Domingue was renamed Haiti.

However, this did not put an end to the nation’s problems. The former slave colony faced challenges that were manifested into present-day poverty, human trafficking, sex slavery and forced labour, institutional racism, etc.

Slavery In Haiti

Even though Haiti was the first to reject the system, slavery is still widespread in the nation. As per the 2014 Global Slavery Index, Haiti has an estimated population of 2,37,700 enslaved people. This makes Haiti the country with the second-highest prevalence of slavery in the world, after Mauritania.

The traditional system of Restavek is functional in modern-day Haiti. Under this system, Haitian children from impoverished households are separated from their parents and sent to work as domestic help in wealthy families. This system reflects apartheid, where slave children are reduced to a subjugated status, made to sleep on the floor, feed off leftovers and are often beaten.

Representative Image. (Source: flickr)

Additionally, human trafficking is common in Haiti. The nation is a major source and destination for women and children subjected to sex slavery. Haitians are trafficked out of their country to the wealthy neighbouring country of the Dominican Republic. Sex slavery in Haiti is a pressing issue.

Haiti has become the top destination for sex tourists. Survivors are not only trafficked for prostitution but also illegal stripping and child pornography. Successive generations in Haiti have grown to adulthood in an environment of racism, shame, abuse and neglect.

Racism In The Dominican Republic

In contrast to Haiti, the Dominican Republic has a flourishing economy. It is the second-largest economy in Central America and has significantly improved living conditions and proper healthcare. As a result, racism is prevalent in the Dominican Republic owing to the after-effects of slavery in the oppression of Black Haitians.

In the Dominican Republic, “blackness” is associated with lower-class status and Haitian migrants. Haitians who possess African-like phenotypic features are victims of racism and discrimination.

The upper-class people in the Dominican Republic are of European origin as opposed to predominantly black Haitian slaves. This has led to the white Dominican Republics having an economic and social privilege. Whiteness is associated with wealth and beauty, whereas the blackness of Haitians is associated with poverty.

There are many instances of discrimination and prejudices between white-skinned Dominican Republics and black-skinned Haitians. Many Haitians have lost their lives due to this racial stereotyping. The white people systematically prevent the representation and empowerment of Haitians. This has forced Haitians to accept their compromised position and submit to slavery.

Haiti’s turbulent history of slavery and rebellion has brought it to the point of destitution and deprivation. Only slavery is to be blamed for Haiti’s tragedy. Today, this country produces people so poor that the only promising source of income is prostitution for most adults. Thus, slavery is still relevant in explaining Haiti’s contemporary situation.

Representative Image via flickr

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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