Over the weekend I spent some time thinking about what it means to be a women in honor of International Women’s Day. Celebrated around the world on March 8, this day is designed to recognize the economic, political, and social achievements of women while calling for greater equality but as one friend on Facebook said, the fact that we need to have International Women’s Day shows how far we still have to go.
Historically we have made strides in the United States but it’s not enough. Our struggles pale in comparison to those that girls and women face around the world. I think that we can all agree that being born female anywhere means your life will be harder – but the poorer you are, the poorer your country is, the truer this becomes.
The new #PovertyIsSexist campaign by ONE recognizes the barriers that women and girls face in trying to reach their full potential. Unlocking the full potential of girls and women doesn’t just transform their own lives or those of their immediate and extended families – it helps end extreme poverty for good.
I’ve been fortunate to meet some amazing women in my travels to Haiti who exemplify the ways women are breaking down gender barriers and achieving extraordinary things despite the fact that they live in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I wanted to share a bit about these three incredible women in Haiti who are dedicated to their work and helping women rise up of poverty. By lifting others up out of poverty these women are taking other people with them too and helping girls and women in Haiti reach their full potential.
Meet Nat, Artisan Business Network Director
Not long after the 2010 earthquake struck, Haitian born New Yorker, Nathalie (Nat) Tancrede, left her former life and moved to Port-au-Prince to head up the Artisan Business Network (ABN). ABN was founded to connect Haitian artists to U.S. and global markets through retailers such as Macy’s because despite the earthquake, artists were still creating beautiful art. This past January while celebrating the 5th anniversary of the Macy’s Heart of Haiti line at the flagship Herald Square store, Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren said the art showcases “extraordinary talent with their beautiful merchandise” through a trade not aid program that creates opportunities.
Opportunities. That’s what Nat creates for the artists she works with around the country. As the Director of ABN, she’s responsible for working with artists to develop ideas that materialize into products that appear at trade shows such as the recent NY Now gift show held in January at the Javits Center. Trade shows provide a way for Haitian handcrafts to be shown to potential buyers in the United States and around the world. Orders placed during shows provide artists with continued work. And if I’ve learned nothing else through my trips to Haiti, the one thing the artists want the most is work because money earned through work provides opportunity that helps lift them out of poverty.
Read more about Nat and the work of the Artisan Business Network through these published pieces:
- Haiti’s Artisans Reach a Larger Public, Caribbean’s Life
- Artisan Business Network Works with Professional Designers to Expand Global Market Share, Hand Eye Magazine
- Haitian Craft Goes Abroad, Hand Eye Magazine
Meet Chena, a Soapstone Carver in Leogane, Haiti
A soapstone artist since the age of 12, Chena sources stone for her art from the Comiere River whose banks are adjacent to her home. During my visit to Haiti last May, she told us how she used to dream of giving up tending to the crops on her family’s land in order to focus on her art full time. Through the Artisan Business Network and orders from companies like Macy’s, Chena now focuses on her soapstone carving full time and employs her family members and others in the community.
In this video, she shares how the demand for the soapstone carvings benefit other families in the area. She says, “I have a lot of people that work with me…some have families so when we have a demand for work…It helps them a lot because they’re working. And some of them who work with me, their homes were destroyed by the earthquake. And they didn’t have the means to rebuild. So as long as we have the demand, people will be able to work and care for themselves.”
Meet Christelle, a Horn & Bone Artist in Port au Prince, Haiti
When cows are slaughtered, their horns and bones are thrown away but like the saying goes, one man’s trash is another woman’s treasure.
Through a process that involves trimming off the thick parts of the horn near the tips, flattening the usable pieces with a press, cutting the pieces into shapes, and polishing, cow horns are transformed into stunning pieces of jewelry and adorn housewares such as frames, boxes, and wall hooks.
Christelle’s designs are ordered by Macy’s, boutique online retailers, and locations in Haiti but the process at her Atelier Calla workshop employs Haitians who are grateful for the work and the opportunity to earn money.
Meet Pascale, a Designer in Port au Prince, Haiti
Not far from the Port-au-Prince airport is Pascale Théard Creations, a beautiful boutique with vibrant walls and eye catching designs on fine leather goods. It’s no surprise that the daughter of a Haitian father who was an art connoisseur and a French mother whose family owned a leather factory would develop her own line of handcrafted luxury leather goods featuring veves, mystic Haitian symbols stemming from voudou that appear in sequins and beads.
At Pascale Théard Creations artisans are at work in large rooms that take advantage of the natural light. The bright Haitian sun streaming through the windows provide a well-lit environment for stitching together leather for shoes or beading bags. Around the left corner of the building is a covered patio where others are working on signage for the redevelopment of Croix des Bouquets. The area is well known for metalwork and is getting a makeover thanks to Pascale’s vision. Paved streets and sidewalks lined with solar lights atop light poles adorned with dancing figures fashioned from recycled oil drums lead the way past well marked shops whose names appear on metal signs bearing the common symbol for the new Noailles district of Croix des Bouquets.
The employment of men and women at Pascale Théard Creations provides consistent work for men and women while her vision for the redevelopment of Croix des Bouquets is making the area a more appealing shopping district and is bound to attract shoppers during their visits to Port au Prince who will bring money to purchase art that ultimate benefits the entire metalwork community.
Helping Women and Girls Reach Their Full Potential Through Work
Haiti may be the poorest country in the western hemisphere but it is a place where these women are making an extraordinary difference. Nat, Chena, Christelle, and Pascale know that girls and women in the poorest countries are being denied the chance to reach their full potential. They realize that access to schooling is important to provide education that will help lift the new generation out of poverty. Through the jobs they create, they provide opportunities for parents to earn money to send their children to school in Haiti, a country that has virtually no public education and tuition and fees more materials can cost almost as much as private schools in this country.
Through their dedication to their work, they’re showing that women and girls can reach their full potential but the fight for equality is already on. More jobs need to be created in Haiti and around the globe to ensure that women and girls have an equal chance to end poverty for good. But the problem isn’t just in Haiti. Haiti happens to be a country where I’ve gotten to know the country, artists, the historical struggles, challenges, and see success first hand but the world needs our help.
Lend Your Voice to End Poverty by 2030
This year, world leaders have an opportunity to set new global goals that could end extreme poverty by 2030. But unless we refocus the development agenda so that improving the lives of girls and women is at its heart, the plan cannot succeed.
I’m asking you to please lend your voice to help turn personal victories into global ones. Join me in joining ONE to lend your voice to help others. Here are 3 very simple things you can do that will make a huge difference:
- Sign and share ONE’s petition calling on world leaders to put girls and women at the heart of the development agenda.
- Read and share ONE’s open letter, signed by more than 35 high-profile women including Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Meryl Streep. This letter is addressed to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will lead the G7 in Germany in June, and Chairwoman Dlamini-Zuma, who will lead the African Union in South Africa in July. The open letter asks these leaders to seize these moments, make the right decisions and unleash the human, social, political and economic potential of women around the world.
- Read ONE’s launch blog and share it on your social media channels to let your friends know
And if you have a bit more time, use it to read ONE’s Poverty is Sexist report that details the challenges and what needs to happen for the situation to change for girls and women around the world. It’s quite powerful and something that those of us who care about the well-being of women and girls globally won’t forget about easily.
This post was inspired by the#PovertyIsSexist campaign by ONE. I received a scholarship from Everywhere to help cover some of my trip expenses to Haiti to visit Artisan Business Network artists who create products for the Macy’s Heart of Haiti line. Emily’s trip was personally paid for by our family. All opinions are based on our experience. Photos were taken with a Samsung NX1 and NXMini and are copyrighted. For permission to use the photos, please email me. Other images are courtesy of ONE.