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LOOKING BACK: Myriam Merlet, Haiti

On the afternoon of Jan. 12, 2010, Myriam Merlet was working on her latest project: a documentary about gender stereotypes in Haiti. She was to host a group of young women she had mentored over the years, ones who could share their experiences and help shape the film.

But the gathering never happened. A now-infamous earthquake shattered Haiti's capital, turning homes to rubble and leveling government buildings, including the Haiti Ministry of Women's Affairs, where Merlet served as chief of staff from 2006 to 2008. More than 300,000 people died. Tragically, Merlet was among them.

Merlet, who fled Haiti's turmoil in the 1970s to study in Canada, died in the land that had pulled her back with a sense of purpose. "While I was abroad I felt the need to find out who I was and where my soul was. I chose to be a Haitian woman," she wrote. "We're a country in which three-fourths of the people can't read and don't eat properly … I don't mean to say that I am responsible for the problems. But still, as a Haitian woman, I must make an effort so that all together we can extricate ourselves from them."

Merlet founded Enfofamn, an organization that raises awareness about the challenges facing women in Haiti. She worked to expose rape as a political weapon, along with fellow activists Magalie Marcelin and Anne Marie Coriolan, who also died in the earthquake. The three women leaders were part of a successful movement to change Haitian laws that treated rape as a "crime of passion." When domestic violence cases went to trial, they would lead large groups of women into the courtroom, applying the pressure of a hundred eyes on often-lenient judges.

Merlet also deepened the dictionary of the Haitian streets, translating terms such as "gender-based violence" and "gender-equity" into Creole. So it's no surprise that, in the hour of her death, Merlet was preparing to give voice to another generation.

The earthquake hit before the young women helping with the documentary could reach her house. They survived. And, in them, so does part of Merlet.


I look at things through the eyes of women, very conscious of the roles, limitations, and stereotypes imposed on us. The idea is to give women the opportunity to grow so that we may end up more complete human beings who can really change things.

- Myriam Merlet

SOURCES: 1 Interview with Mildrede Beliard, CARE Haiti media officer, February 2011. 2 Ravitz, Jessica, "Women's movement mourns death of three Haitian leaders,", Jan. 20, 2010. 3 "Evolving Men," International Men and Gender Equality Survey, 2010. Photo Credit: © Paula Allen/ V-Day.    

© Paula Allen/ V-Day