Realities and Resiliences: Haitian women’s lives

Poto Mitan is a wonderful insight into life in Haiti, describing women as the ‘pillars’ of the globalized economy. Although this film celebrates Haitian women, the film also presents how these women have been exploited, and the high cost of living in Haiti.

The portrayals of mother/daughter relationships in Edwidge Danticat’s 1994 acclaimed novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory published in 1994 are negative, because the mother is the source of sexual trauma. In this work, before Martine ‘tests’ her daughter Sophie for sexual purity, Sophie begins to have nightmares similar to those of her mother, and takes on aspects of her mother’s own grief. Martine’s grief is caused by her rape in the cane fields at the hands of a Tonton Macoute – a member of the Haitian paramilitary force created in 1959 by dictator François ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier.

In contrast, the sections narrated by Edwidge Danticat in the Poto Mitan film celebrate the mother/daughter relationship, finding hope in the continuation of the struggle by daughters.

The cramped single room living conditions for large families, that are in common for all the women featured in the film, brought home to me the relative luxury experienced by the Caco family in Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory. Martine is able to send home remittance money from her job in New York, so Attie and Sophie have a much larger house than the one room houses of Hélène and Frisline documented in Poto Mitan. Despite her slight resources, Frisline’s story seems hopeful, in that although she was cheated of so much money she is able to support herself and her family by opening a business that she controls. The exploitation of factory workers in Haiti that is highlighted by the film is a global injustice, because unions are cheated and international companies profit from the labour of women who need to feed families. Yet, there is hope in this situation too, because Unions are being founded like the KGF in Haiti which is a grass roots movement fighting for women’s rights and harvesting their resilience.

The plight of exploited workers is a global one. Gary Haugen, CEO of International Justice Mission (@garyhaugen) tweeted at 9:14 PM on Wed, Feb 12, 2014:
Bruised & bloodied from 20+ hrs a day in a brick factory, nearly 40 just rescued from slavery by Indian police & @IJM http://t.co/TdvlMG9jBJ
(https://twitter.com/garyhaugen/status/433710667577581569)

This freedom acquired for slave labourers inspires hope for the plight of factory workers in Haiti and throughout the majority world.

Bethnay Lunn

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