Haitian woman

Why Haitian immigration to the Dominican Republic is a feminist issue

Ed. note: This post was originally published on the Community site.

The unrest and conditions in Haiti have pushed many Haitian citizens to choose to move to the Dominican Republic. This issue of Haitian immigration is a controversial one, especially now that thousands have been casted into immigration limbo when a law that retroactively stripped Dominican-born people of Haitian descent of birth-right and then required them to apply for citizenship was enacted in recent weeks.

According to an Amnesty International report, there are an estimated 110,000 who qualify for citizenship, yet only 5,345 people applied (as of January 9th). The report states, “Law 169/14…required those born to undocumented foreign parents, whose birth was never declared in the Dominican Republic, to register to a special scheme to obtain a residence permit which would be needed to later claim citizenship in the country.” The Inter-American Court of Human Rights had previously declared that this law violates human rights.

The problem isn’t only one of immigration and the disregard of immigrants’ rights, but also one concerning the health and wellbeing of women who make the choice to cross the border. Haitian women face violence while taking this journey, as well as once they arrive in the Dominican Republic. According to an extensive qualitative research report put together by Colectiva Mujer y Salud and Mujeres del Mundo (Collective Women and Health and Women of the World), Haitian women are subjugated to sexual violence, violations of labor rights, macuteo (the act of “shaking down” for money), and other forms of abuse. The research was presented in a book titled Fanm nan fwontyè, Fanm toupatou (Women in the border, Women everywhere) which, though published in 2012, is ever so relevant today:

Haitian migrant women, as well as those who have been displaced or who are in transit on the Dominican-Haitian border, find themselves at risk of suffering violence against women (VAW) in various contexts…There are high levels of routine violence against women in the region, which takes on various forms: physical, sexual, economic, and verbal/psychological violence, as well as high risks of illicit human smuggling and trafficking, including for purposes of forced sex work.

The population that crosses the border includes pregnant women who wish to give birth on the Dominican side of the island — where hospitals are already saturated. According to an article for the Cronkite Borderlands Initiative, the Dominican government has budgeted for public health services for 7 million people, and yet the country has a population of 10 million people. It is estimated that at least a tenth of that population is undocumented Haitians. Earlier this month the government proposed building three hospitals in border towns, on the Haitian side, to tend to the needs of the Haitian women.

However, this particular initiative will not protect Haitian women from facing not just gender discrimination but also racial discrimination in the Dominican Republic. Fanm nan fwontyè, Fanm toupatou describes a particular child welfare organization that discriminates against Haitian women: “[The center] exhibits very little sensitization regarding issues of violence against Haitian women and girls, and demonstrates strong anti-Haitian sentiment.” The Dominican Republic is a place where anti-Haitianismo has been systematically placed upon its people from the moment of its conception; Dominicans celebrate independence in 1844 from Haiti, it’s neighboring country which liberated its slaves, rather than the battle against Spain won on November 9th, 1821.

As a Dominicana, I am taking a firm stand in solidarity with Haitians (as have many others). I recently wrote an article for La Galería Magazine where I stated the following: “I grew up surrounded by Anti-Haitian sentiments in Quisqueya, and it wasn’t until I came here that I realized that those sentiments existed. Those racist sentiments are systematically alienating Dominicans from Haitians and in turn, Dominicans from themselves.”

In order for true change to occur, the story of the Dominican Republic and Haiti must be retold from a de-colonized lens that recognizes the historical collaborations rather than the historical differences. In order for true change to occur, a kind of change that would ensure the safety of displaced Haitian women or women on the Haitian-Dominican border, both governments must work together to create proactive solutions. Some of the recommendations made in Fanm nan fwontyè, Fanm toupatou include working to fix language barriers, training the border personnel, and having human rights workers accompany women when they go to authorities to seek help.

Indeed, Haitian immigrant women carry a heavy weight that must be lifted off their shoulders. As women who come from Dominican Republic’s neighboring country, they aren’t strangers. In fact they are people who Dominicanas share much in common with. Las mujeres de Haití are our sisters.

New York City

Amanda Alcantara is a writer, a journalist, and a community organizer. Her work has appeared on Guerrilla Feminism, El Diario La Prensa and The Grio. She is a Co-Founder of La Galería Magazine, a magazine for Dominican Diaspora, and author of the blog Radical Latina. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism & Media Studies and Political Science from Rutgers University where she helped relaunch the Latin American Womyn's Organization. Amanda also does community theater and writes poetry. She's a firm believer in healing through art and in fighting for liberation. A map of the world turned upside down hangs on her wall.

Amanda Alcantara is a writer and freelance journalist

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