Haiti: The situation of women who live alone, including those who are not in precarious situations; whether they can access employment and housing; support services available to them (2017-June 2020) [HTI200278.E]

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17 August 2020


Haiti: The situation of women who live alone, including those who are not in precarious situations; whether they can access employment and housing; support services available to them (2017-June 2020)

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

1. Overview

According to a mission report prepared by the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless People (Office français pour la protection des réfugiés et apatrides, OFPRA) following a visit to Haiti from 26 March to 7 April 2017, women [translation] "often find themselves alone in supporting their children" (France 2017, 53). According to the World Bank, 40.6 percent of households were headed by women in 2012, which is the most recent data available (World Bank n.d.). An article published on the website of the NATO Association of Canada (NAOC), an independent NGO whose goal is to "foster a better understanding of goals of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Canada's role in NATO," states that "[i]t is unusual for a married woman in Haitian society to be the head of the household, to make economic decisions, and run her own business. This is only possible when the husband abandons his family or dies. Even women with business experience find it difficult to overcome this cultural obstacle" (Haddjeri 24 Sept. 2019). A Common Country Assessment prepared by the UN Country Team in Haiti indicates that in rural areas, there is a [translation] "high rate" of households headed by women (UN June 2017, 103). The same source adds that this group is [translation] "particularly" affected by gender inequality, discrimination against women, and the "feminization of poverty" (UN June 2017, 103). The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2019 indicates that women do "not enjoy the same social and economic status as men" (US 11 Mar. 2020, 19). According to the OFPRA mission report, women generate [translation] "little income, which keeps them in a situation of great financial dependence of men" (France 2017, 53).

2. Access to Employment

According to the US Country Reports 2019, the Haitian constitution provides for freedom of work for all citizens and prohibits discrimination based on sex or marital status (US 11 Mar. 2020, 28). According to the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), single and married women have the same rights in terms of employment and conditions of work, as set out in article 330 of the constitution (OECD 7 Dec. 2018, 7). The report further states that "article 3 of the Haitian Labour Code states that all the workers are equal before the law. It also abolishes all discrimination, including based on sex, which means women can enter any profession and work the same night hours as men" (OECD 7 Dec. 2018, 7). However, the same source adds that "[t]here is no mention in the law of discrimination in job advertisements, selection criteria, recruitment, hiring, promotions or training" (OECD 7 Dec. 2018, 7).

Freedom House states that "women face bias in employment and disparities in access to financial services" (Freedom House 4 Mar. 2020). US Country Reports 2019 similarly states that "[b]y law men and women have equal protections for economic participation. In practice, however, women faced barriers to accessing economic inputs and securing collateral for credit, information on lending programs, and other resources" (US 11 Mar. 2020, 19). In addition, according to Bertelsmann Stiftung's Transformation Index (BTI) 2020, women are disadvantaged in the labour market and Haiti "has the highest level of income inequality in the Western Hemisphere" (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2020, 16). According to the OFPRA report, women's access to the labour market and to property is [translation] "limited" (France 2017, 53). The UN's Common Country Assessment on Haiti indicates that [translation] “[w]ith respect to entrepreneurship, women engage more in individual micro initiatives to survive and are not very visible in businesses” (UN June 2017, 102). The same source states that women have unequal access to resources, including financing and skills development, which makes it [translation] “difficult for women to take entrepreneurial initiatives” (UN June 2017, 102).

According to a February 2020 UN report on the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH),

[r]ecent political unrest further undermined living and working conditions in Haiti, especially for the most vulnerable, restricting social and livelihood activities in Port-au-Prince and other urban centres and leading to the closure of many businesses in urban area[s] between September and November 2019 and thus to the loss of jobs and incomes for many. (UN 13 Feb. 2020, para. 40)

The same source also states that "[u]nemployment and underemployment, including of women and young people, is thought to have risen, at a time when opportunities for education, training and entrepreneurship for young people and members of other vulnerable groups have not expanded" (UN 13 Feb. 2020, para. 40). According to the BTI 2020, "[w]omen receive less education than men" and "are mostly concentrated in low-skilled (manufacturing) employment since high-skilled employment is either restricted because of their lack of education or institutional biases" (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2020, 24). The same source states that, for the population in general, "[a]ccess to higher education is extremely limited due to a lack of resources to pay fees. Universities have irregular schedules and are prone to student unrest. Another constraint is the near total absence of vocational training, which leads to extremely poor standards of technical qualifications" (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2020, 26).

A 2017 report published as part of the Haïti Priorise project, a project of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, a think tank that works with "governments, NGOs and multilateral organizations on projects around the world" (Copenhagen Consensus Center n.d.), with financial support from the Government of Canada, states that "[t]he informal sector remains the most accessible sector for women" (Torchenaud, et al. 7 Apr. 2017, iv). The same source states that women make up 88 percent of informal "'domestic workers'" and that "[t]his group of workers, who come mainly from the rural areas of the country, do not enjoy the same level of protection as other workers and are victims of various abuses such as: overworking for low pay, discriminatory treatment, daily aggression, etc." (Torchenaud, et al. 7 Apr 2017, v). According to Heart to Heart International, a US-based organization that "strengthens communities through improving health access, providing humanitarian development and administering crisis relief worldwide" (Heart to Heart International n.d.a), "[o]ver 80 percent of women who work in Haiti work in informal jobs, with the average annual income of Haitian women almost half that of men ($1,250 US for women versus $2,247 US for men)" (Heart to Heart International n.d.b). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

According to the UN Common Country Assessment for Haiti, [translation] “[i]n rural areas, 67.7% of women work in the informal sector, whereas in urban areas, they account for a little more than 50%” (UN June 2017, 102). According to the BTI 2020 country report, "[v]ery few women hold high executive positions in the private sector and public administration" (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2020, 16). According to the article published by the NAOC,

[i]n spite of the recognized role women play in economic development, Haiti’s current developmental framework does not include women in any strategic positions. Although they concede women’s importance in the informal economy, they do not showcase their economic activities as contributing to economic development (Haddjeri 24 Sept. 2019).

2.1 Employment in the Public Sector

According to sources, the constitution states that 30 percent of positions in the public sector should be occupied by women (US 11 Mar. 2020, 28; CMI June 2020, 3; Freedom House 4 Mar. 2020), but the government does not penalize for non-compliance (Freedom House 4 Mar. 2020; CMI June 2020, 3) and the "gender quota remains largely ineffective" (CMI June 2020, 3). US Country Reports 2019 further states that

[t]he government took some steps to enforce the laws [regarding discrimination with respect to employment and occupation] through administrative methods, such as through the Ministry of Women’s Conditions and the Office of the Secretary of State for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities. In the private sector, several industries including public transportation and construction, which had been male-oriented, began employing female workers at the same pay scale as men. Despite these improvements, gender discrimination remained a major concern. (US 11 Mar. 2020, 29)

Additionally, the February 2020 UN report on the BINUH states that "gender-sensitive recruitment and training efforts continue to increase the overall strength of the national police. The next class of approximately 650 police cadets (thirty-first graduating class), with at least 12 per cent female representation, could begin basic training in the coming weeks" and "[a]t the same time, the nationwide enrolment process of the thirty-second class of recruits is ongoing, with 1,504 applicants, including 343 women" (UN 13 Feb. 2020, para. 26).

According to US Country Reports 2019, the "constitution requires that at least 30 percent of elected officials be women, but both chambers of Parliament fell well short of this quota (3 percent in the Senate, 2.5 percent in the Chamber of Deputies)" (US 11 Mar. 2020, 16). Sources state that [since 2017 (Freedom House 4 Mar. 2020)] there have been 4 seats in parliament held by women, out of a total of 149 seats (Freedom House 4 Mar. 2020; UN 15 June 2020, para. 7). The February 2020 UN report on the BINUH states that this ratio of women parliamentarians is "ranked among the lowest in the world" (UN 13 Feb. 2020, para. 9). The BTI 2020 reports that "[o]nly a tiny minority of women is represented in public office" and that "[i]n the history of the two official legislative chambers, women have never held more than 6% of the seats. There are no existing public programs or incentives targeted toward promoting greater gender equality" (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2020, 24). US Country Reports 2019 further states that "[c]ivil society organizations noted female political candidates had little access to campaign financing and that female participation in politics was hindered by cultural norms rejecting female participation in politics" (US 11 Mar. 2020, 16).

2.2 Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

US Country Reports 2019 indicates that "[t]he law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment," despite equality under the labour code, and that "[o]bservers indicated sexual harassment occurred frequently. There were no programs to address sexual harassment" (US 11 Mar. 2019, 19). The UN Common Country Assessment, citing a 2016 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) report, notes that the informal sector offers few [translation] "decent" employment opportunities, and that "women are concentrated in unskilled and poorly-paid jobs, where they are not covered by social protections and often face sexual harassment" (UN June 2017, 40).

3. Access to Housing

According to the OECD, men and women have the same property, land and asset rights as stated in article 36 of Haiti's constitution (OECD 7 Dec. 2018, 6). Gender Action, a Washington-based organization "dedicated to promoting gender justice and equal rights in all International Financial Institution (IFI) investments such as those of the World Bank," citing one of its publications from 2012, states that "[w]hile securing access to housing and financing is difficult for all Haitian urban residents, women … face even greater barriers due to systemic gender discrimination against their owning property" (Gender Action 2018, I, 35).

According to a survey of 2,792 households, including 17,515 individuals, on the effects of 2016's Hurricane Matthew by the Brazil-based Igarapé Institute, an "independent think and do tank devoted to evidence-based policy and action on complex social challenges in Brazil, Latin America, and Africa" that is "supported by bilateral agencies, foundations, international organizations and private donors," women were "disproportionally" affected, and "[w]omen reported less access to stable housing and four months after the hurricane they were significantly more likely than male respondents to live in a makeshift dwelling" (Igarapé Institute June 2017, 2, 9, 12, 26).

4. Societal Treatment

The OFPRA report states that, [translation] “approximately 22% of women are married today, most of whom live in 'plaçage,' a non-marital practice of couples that is not recognized by the Civil Code” (France 2017, 53). According to a report [1] by the Socio-Digital Research Group (Socio-Dig), a Haiti-based "independent research firm providing research services and support to public, private and non-profit sector clients," led by Timothy Schwartz, who has "conducted research and worked on the island of Hispaniola for 27 years" (Socio-Dig n.d.), whose team surveyed 451 households with the goal of examining life in rural Grand Anse, "[i]n rural Haiti, it is socially acceptable for men to engage in unions with more than one woman. The men may build houses and raise children with the women, all being referred to as the man’s 'madam' wife. It is not acceptable for women to simultaneously engage in multiple unions" (Socio-Dig 6 Oct. 2018, 17).

The OECD states that a "law on paternity, maternity and filiation, from 2012 allows women, married or unmarried, to register children, in the same way as men" (OECD 7 Dec. 2018, 8).

For further information on the situation of women in Haiti and on violence against women, including sexual violence, see Response to Information Request HTI106291 of June 2019. Information on the situation and treatment of women who are not in precarious situations could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

5. Support Services

For information on state protection and support services for women victims of violence, see Response to Information Request HTI106291 of June 2019.

The February 2020 UN report on the BINUH states that the UNDP is "working with women-headed businesses in Port-au-Prince to ensure that women gain access to the resources and opportunities necessary to support their transition into the formal market" (UN 13 Feb. 2020, para. 41).

The OFPRA report indicates, citing a feminist activist, that the objectives of the Ministry for the Status of Women and Women's Rights (Ministère à la Condition feminine et aux droits des femmes, MCFDF) are as follows: [translation] "'the prevention and sanction of violence against women, the development of women’s political participation, the fight for non-sexist education, their independence, and their integration into decision-making positions in public and private bodies'" (France 2017, 55). Without providing further detail, the same source also notes the following, citing representatives of Solidarity for Haitian Women (Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn, SOFA) [see below for description]:


Although this ministry is threatened with being shut down every time there is a change of government, and although it has extremely limited room for maneuver, given that it receives less than 1% of the total government budget, it has contributed to certain improvements in terms of legal recognition of violence against women. (France 2017, 55)

Information on the programs and activities of the MCFDF could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

The OFPRA report notes that, citing Nicole Phillips, the author of an academic book chapter on the role of grassroots movements in the fight against sexual violence in Haiti, [translation] “women meet their needs with help from their community—family, rural or neighbourhood” (France 2017, 53).

According to the 2017 UN Common Country Assessment, the ministry in charge of gender equality and its application of the gender equality policy are [translation] "weak" and "not effective," due to financial and technical constraints (UN June 2017, 104). The same source also describes the engagement and capacities of other related ministries as [translation] "weak," that legal and social support services for problems related to gender inequality are "absent," and that the capacity of NGOs working for gender equality is also "weak," due to lack of institutional, human, and financial capacity (UN June 2017, 104).

The OFPRA report indicates that there are numerous women’s organizations in Haiti (France 2017, 56). The following are examples of women’s associations in Haiti:

  • Sun Women’s Association of Haiti (Asosyasyon Fanm Soley Dayiti, AFASDA), a national non-partisan association comprising 3,000 members, with 17 branches in the north of the country, 3 in the north-east, and 2 in the west; AFASDA's activities include mobilizing women for elections, coordinating the promotion of national dialogue, and seeking [translation] "new opportunities for women to exercise their full potential and to contribute effectively to the rebuilding of a better society" (AFASDA n.d.);
  • Kay Fanm [translation] "is a Haitian organization for the promotion and defense of women's rights founded in 1984. The first shelter in the country's history for abused women and girls, the organization also works to strengthen the socioeconomic situation and status of women. As a feminist organization and support center for women victims of violence, Kay Fanm also plays a political lobby role in defense of women's interests" (Kay Fanm n.d.);
  • SOFA is a feminist social organization with 10,000 members in seven departments that brings together mainly peasant women, as well as women living in working-class neighbourhoods and professional women; it offers services including support to women who are victims of violence, a gynecological clinic, grain mills, a textile workshop (in the process of being put in place), and a feminist farming school (under construction) (SOFA n.d.).

For additional information on services offered by civil society to women victims of violence, see Response to Information Request HTI106291 of June 2019.

For additional information on the situation of women who live alone, including support services available to them, see Response to Information Request HTI105995 of October 2017.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


[1] The report was prepared for HEKS/EPER, an aid organization of Swiss Protestant churches that focuses on "rural community development, humanitarian aid and inter-church cooperation" (HEKS/EPER n.d.).


Asosyasyon Fanm Soley Dayiti (AFASDA). N.d. "Impact." [Accessed 7 Aug. 2020]

Bertelsmann Stiftung. 2020. "Haiti Country Report." Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI) 2020. [Accessed 17 June 2020]

Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI). June 2020. Marianne Tøraasen. "Women’s Status in Haiti Ten Years After the Earthquake." (CMI Brief No. 2020:07) [Accessed 20 July 2020]

Copenhagen Consensus Center. N.d. "Our Approach." [Accessed 10 Aug. 2020]

France. 2017. Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides (OFPRA) with Cour nationale du droit d’asile (CNDA). Rapport de mission en République d’Haïti - du 26 mars au 7 avril 2017. [Accessed 15 June 2020]

Freedom House. 4 March 2020. "Haiti." Freedom in the World 2020. [Accessed 15 June 2020]

Gender Action. 2018. Eliza McCullough, Elaine Zuckerman, and Amy Van Zanen. Gender Justice Scorecard: IFIs in Haiti. [Accessed 25 June 2020]

Haddjeri, Sarah. 24 September 2019. "The Importance of Education for Girls and Women in Haiti." NATO Association of Canada (NAOC). [Accessed 13 July 2020]

Heart to Heart International. N.d.a. "Our Mission." [Accessed 29 June 2020]

Heart to Heart International. N.d.b. "Women of Haiti." [Accessed 29 June 2020]

HEKS/EPER. N.d. "Who We Are." [Accessed 10 Aug. 2020]

Igarapé Institute. June 2017. Athena Kolbe, et al. Haitian Women's Experiences of Recovery from Hurricane Matthew. Strategic Note 26. [Accessed 7 Aug. 2020]

Kay Fanm. N.d. "À propos." [Accessed 13 July 2020]

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). 7 December 2018. "Haiti." Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI). [Accessed 12 June 2020]

Socio-Digital Research Group (Socio-Dig). 6 October 2018. Timothy Schwartz, et al. Baseline, Value Chains, & Notab Information Network. [Accessed 20 July 2020]

Socio-Digital Research Group (Socio-Dig). N.d. "About." [Accessed 10 Aug. 2020]

Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn (SOFA). N.d. "Qui sommes-nous?" [Accessed 10 Aug. 2020]

Torchenaud, Mélissa, Jacques Philippe Estime, and Samuel Philip Jean-Louis. 7 April 2017. Human Rights on the Labour Market. Haïti Priorise, Copenhagen Consensus Center. [Accessed 16 June 2020]

United Nations (UN). 15 June 2020. Security Council. United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti: Report of the Secretary-General. (S/2020/537) [Accessed 18 June 2020]

United Nations (UN). 13 February 2020. Security Council. United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti: Report of the Secretary-General. (S/2020/123) [Accessed 18 June 2020]

United Nations (UN). June 2017. United Nations Country Team in Haiti. Haïti : bilan commun de pays. [Accessed 18 June 2020]

United States (US). 11 March 2020. Department of State. “Haiti.” Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2019. [Accessed 16 June 2020]

World Bank. N.d. "Female Headed Households (% of households with a female head) – Haiti." [Accessed 24 June 2020]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Bureau des droits humains en Haïti; Haiti – Office de la protection du citoyen; Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti; Réseau national de défense des droits humains.

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International; Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative; ecoi.net; Human Rights Watch; Inter-American Development Bank; International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; The New Humanitarian, UN – Food and Agriculture Organization, International Labour Organization, Refworld, UNHCR.


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