By: Bailea Tayler based on interviews conducted by productive cooperatives Haiti with Fernande Alcide and Phabienne Meilleur
BCCIC recently co-hosted a parallel event in collaboration with HOPE International Development Agency and VIDEA on Rural Women’s Leadership in Localized Climate Solutions: Canada, Haiti, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. During this event, panelists spoke on their lived experiences with women’s leadership in climate action as well as the compounding impacts women face in relation to climate change. In preparation for this event, HOPE and their partner productive cooperatives Haiti interviewed two women cooperative members, Fernande Alcide and Phabienne Meilleur, to speak on their lived-experiences of rural women’s leadership on localized climate solutions in Haiti. We share excerpts of these interviews – translated from Creole French to English – below to amplify localized climate solutions in Haiti.
HOPE International Development Agency works to end poverty for families one community at a time. They partner with grassroots, community-based organizations and collaborate directly with families and communities to create local solutions to extreme poverty that foster resilience, self-reliance and sustainability. One partner Hope International work closely with is productive cooperatives Haiti (pcH). Haiti has a long history of political violence and economic imbalance, and population pressure has led to extreme environmental degradation. Rapid deforestation has left approximately 3 percent of the country with forest cover, largely as a result of the use of fuelwood to supply Haiti’s energy requirements. This has left most Haitians extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. More than 96% of the Haitian population remains highly vulnerable to natural hazards, mainly hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. Annual rainfall is steadily decreasing in Haiti exposing the nation to increased droughts. In conjunction, rapidly increasing ‘hot’ days and nights negatively impact productive agriculture and requires Haitians to incorporate climate resilient crops.
Rural Women’s Leadership on Localized Climate Solutions: Meet Fernande and Phabienne
Fernande Alcide is a fifth year student in agronomic sciences at the American University of the Caribbean. This university specializes in the field of agroforestry. Fernande is passionate about phytopathology, the study of plant diseases. She is originally from Gorgette, a communal section of the commune of Pestel. Fernande has been a member of the KPG agricultural cooperative for four years. She participates in community initiatives, such as awareness-raising activities on reforestation and the environment. Fernande has experience in agricultural survey activities with World Renew and is passionate about rural community development.
Phabienne Meilleur is a third year student in agronomic sciences at the UNICA University (Integrated University of the Caribbean). She is originally from Lescave, a locality in the communal section of Duchity, where she has been a member of the agricultural cooperative KOTAL for five years. Phabienne has experience in the field of soil conservation and believes in the development of the country with the agricultural sector. She is very passionate about agroforestry practices and the environment.
Q: What are the effects of climate change and environmental disasters on women and girls in your local rural communities?
Fernande: In my community women face the challenge of water, as natural disasters and dry seasons force them to search further for daily use. Water storage is often contaminated as it is captured by rain and containers have no covers. This causes itchy skin.
Phabienne: The women and girls in our community lack information about how to respond to disasters and climate change so they become victims. Women face a lot of difficulties, especially sourcing food and water. For those who have lost their husbands, they have more responsibilities.
Q: How are women in your local community developing local solutions to climate change, environmental problems and disasters? Do you have any examples of the local solutions women have developed?
Fernande: We try to plant more trees in the dry season and we are more aware of new agricultural techniques. For example, manioc doesn’t need a lot of water so we plant this in the dry season. We also can plant pigeon peas for this reason.
Phabienne: Often, women will create small savings and loan groups to help them revive their economic activities. In my community there is a women’s group called “Gwoupman Famn” who make certain decisions for their community. When they face gender violence or sexual abuse, women can go to them and be heard and supported.
Photos of women harvesting yam tubers through pcH’s most recent agricultural project, the Kreyòl Garden, in partnership with HOPE International Development Agency and other partners in Duchity, Haiti. Completed in 2021, the project piloted a new, locally developed method for agriculture rehabilitation that used agroforestry to rebuild soil health and create crop diversity for increased resilience.
Q: In addition to helping the environment, do any of these solutions also promote women’s economic empowerment and social justice, and if so, in what ways?
Fernande: Yes, when there is harvest, there is always enough to sell. Selling in the market is the role of women which gives them control over this income. This is especially an extra benefit to women who are single and allows us to not be forced to take a man for food security and livelihood. In this way, women have more control over their lives and their income to care for their family.
Phabienne: Yes, they do help because they have more economic flexibility and they have support for each other.
Q: What are the barriers or challenges that women have faced when trying to suggest solutions or advocate for policy change to prevent or respond to climate change and environmental disasters? Can you share any challenges that you have personally experienced?
Fernande: In every society there is a challenge between men and women’s voices. Women’s voices are often dismissed and so it is not easy for women to affect change in terms of policy or impact other decisions. At this time, in my experience, I do not have an example where I have observed or experienced a voice of women influencing change at this level.
Phabienne: Typically, our society undervalues and underestimates womens’ voices. It does not believe that women can make decisions for themselves. Husbands want women to be at home doing domestic work and not go to work. I had a relative who was underestimated by her husband. Then pcH came with a program in soil conservation and she participated. She made money and was able to start a little business. This gave her confidence and her husband was able to accept her making more decisions for herself.
Q: How have girls and women tried to overcome these barriers or challenges? What has made them or you successful in these situations?
Fernande: One thing women do is organize themselves. We have had such organizations in the past but in my community there are none that are active now. It was successful because they planted coffee. They needed more shade for the coffee plants so they planted trees. I was young at the time so I do not know why it did not continue. However, now that I am older, I am ready to start something that will succeed. I realize that my biggest challenge will still be these imbalances of power between men and women. When women become more involved in economic or advocacy activities, we spend less time taking care of men. This is very frustrating for them and they make our lives more difficult.
Phabienne: Women began to advocate for themselves and put their voice in front of others. They began to believe in themselves and persisted in changing the perception of society.
Q: You were nominated by your organizations as powerful leaders in your respective communities. What has been your source of strength and power, and do you have any advice for girls and women who would like to assume leadership roles in the face of climate change and environmental disasters?
Fernande: I find my strength in my personal desire to want to make change for the women in my community. I would advise young girls and women who want to be leaders to not be afraid to be in the forefront of change, to believe in their own strength and abilities.
Phabienne: After the last disaster I saw so many people in need. This gave me the desire, strength and inspiration to be a leader. My advice to young women is to believe in yourself because you have capacity, you are courageous and you are powerful. You can do many things for change.
Q: Lastly, do you have any advice for policy-makers, NGOs and governments on how to meaningfully include women’s voices and perspectives when developing climate solutions and mitigation strategies?
Fernande: I would advise them to listen to the voices of women, to understand that we need technical support to advance our causes. I hope speaking out about these issues will help make a positive impact on my community.
Phabienne: My advice is to encourage others to promote equality between men and women and to assist in creating more women’s organizations to be heard. We urgently need more technical support for rural women and education for young girls around these issues.
A field of bean varieties being trailed through the Kreyòl Garden project in Duchity, Haiti.
Gender Mainstreaming for Empowerment
Women involved in the the Kreyòl Garden project harvesting yam tubers.
Gender equality is a cross-cutting issue which intersects with all Sustainable Development Goal targets. Demonstrated in the conversation above, as well as in the focus theme of the sixty-sixth session of the Commission on the Status of Women: gender equality in the context of climate change and disaster risk reduction, we can begin to understand the disproportionate burden which falls on rural women. Rural women experience increased vulnerability as a result of climate change, and face multiple barriers to equity, especially as it relates to women’s role in the care economy. And yet, in spite of these increasing challenges, women are consistently at the center for transformative and meaningful social change.
It is critical to continue to support bottom-up, grassroots organizations, particularly women’s organizations. Rural women, in this example and beyond, demonstrate a tenacious and fierce commitment to the empowerment of each other and working towards gender equality in all its forms. Collectively, they draw on their local knowledge – often passed down from generation to generation – and lived experience to develop very localized nature-based solutions to climate change, and in the process not only promote a more sustainable future for generations to come, but also advance women’s economic and decision-making power in local power structures. It is necessary to recognize that this environmental and social change requires the inclusion of men as allies in gender equality activities and create more opportunities for women to participate equitably at the decision-making table.
While gender mainstreaming into environmental and socio-economic policy and programming is a necessary means to promote the advancement of women’s equity, an intersectional lens is needed to recognize the diverse perspectives and needs of women in rural communities. Women are consistently at the forefront of climate change initiatives and policy makers are called on to integrate an intersectional lens when considering action, or inaction.
If you are interested to learn more, watch the full webinar which includes Fernande Alcide alongside other speakers from Canada, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.