With 2015-2024 declared the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent, Danielle Saint-Lôt believes global movements can learn from the experiences of Haiti.
As the single mother of a 23-year-old daughter, Saint-Lôt is also working to empower women in a country where just a handful of women sit in decision-making positions like the parliament and on corporate boards.
“Our women are strong in our homes and our communities. We are a resilient people. But the difference between Haiti and the rest of the Caribbean is that women have less access to economic and political power. Currently, 40 per cent of our households are single-mother-led, meaning that women cannot leave their families’ duties to pursue educational or political ambitions. We fought to have legislation passed that puts equal responsibility on both the maternal and paternal sides – but we do this in a society that is still male-dominated. Our courts and police services are still primarily male-dominated, and it falls to these organisations to enforce these laws.”
She would like to see free paternity tests offered so that fathers can share the responsibility and the financial aspects of raising children.
“This would allow our women the opportunity to grow and to become more educated and fully play their key role in the society.”
Saint-Lôt spoke last month on The Breast Tour – a global women’s health initiative summit pioneered by Trinidad-born Nicole Joseph Chin and Christine Francois. The Breast Tour’s inaugural digital conference was started by Joseph-Chin to help channel the focus on breast health as it relates to quality of life for women around the world. Joseph-Chin is a global speaker and authority on breast matters as it relates to societal development and has worked in organisations alongside one-time US presidential candidate and senator Hillary Clinton as well as Cherie Blair, wife of former British prime minister, Tony Blair. Saint-Lôt’s timely subject was resilience in the region amidst a worldwide pandemic.
Saint-Lôt is doing her best to play a key role in building her Haitian society. She’s a business consultant and champion for women’s rights in Haiti, the region and the world. Saint-Lôt is also the founder and president of the Danielle Saint-Lôt Haiti Women’s Foundation as well as the president and CEO of Caribbean Business Consulting (CBC). The foundation is a US-based non-profit which advances programmes to empower Haitian women through the promotion of social entrepreneurship, leadership skills, and professional development.
In addition to this, Saint-Lôt is also Haiti’s ambassador-at-large for women’s empowerment and a co-founder of Femmes en Démocratie, the Vital Voices Haiti Chapter and a member of the Vital Voices Global Advisory Council. Her studies in international relations at the State University of Haiti and later at the Institute for International Public Administration (IIAP) of Paris, were influenced by the work and stories of her grandfather, Emile Saint-Lôt, who served as a Haitian ambassador to the UN. Her love of global affairs also emerged from her time on the Haitian national volleyball team, when she travelled around the world to represent her country.
She wants to help change not just the inequalities within her country but also the narrative about it too.
“Haiti’s revolution began in 1791 and ended in 1804, when we were marginalised, and we had to pay France 90 million francs – the modern equivalent of US$21 billion – over 30 years to recognise our independence. We were also marginalised because the global powers didn’t want us to export our revolution – and there you begin to see where the ongoing challenges started.
“Here you had former slaves who now had to give birth to a nation, but there is a global embargo against you, and you have no technology and no qualifications in nation-building. All we had was the fact that we were free warriors and fighters, and we were building fortresses to protect our new land of liberty. We had to invest in defending ourselves to not be slaves again, instead of focusing on our welfare and our education.”
Changing that, she believes, means changing the world’s understanding of the Caribbean’s shared stories and history.
This is something that is becoming increasingly evident in another form through the Black Lives Matter campaigns sweeping cities around the globe and the realities of colonialism being discussed in the region.
“We have to know our history to be able to tell our story and not let other people tell it for us. When you realise that after we paid for independence, French Catholic priests and teachers then came to our country where they wrote our Haiti history books, you see that we have not given the power to our own stories,” Saint -Lôt points out.
Having been a minister of tourism and Haiti’s first female minister of commerce and industry, Saint-Lôt is also passionate about greater regional integration in light of the ongoing global pandemic.
“There is no reason for Haiti to not fully integrate into the region – it’s a win-win situation. With over 11.5 million people in Haiti, it’s an opportunity, if our people are educated and secured, for countries like Suriname and Guyana with huge land areas and small populations to capitalise on their resources from mining to forestry and agriculture.
“Haiti imported US$228 million tonnes of rice in 2018 from outside the region – why is that not coming from within Caricom?” she asks. She would like to see “perhaps a faculty or two of the University of the West Indies in Haiti in areas of practical studies too.”
She points out that Haitian parents and students invest US$220 million a year in university education in the Dominican Republic.
She sees opportunities in every area.
“With 27 million stay-over tourists coming to the region per year spending more than US$30 billion, why aren’t we working to offer a cohesive tourism environment? Where else in the world can you find all these races, languages, culinary traditions, music and festivals celebrated in such a small footprint? We have to capitalise on this. No region in the world can offer this.
“Haiti needs to stop being isolated and really fully integrate the region. We can do this by working together and changing the narrative and learning from each other. Haiti, my country, is incredibly resilient, and we have so much to give – but also so much to learn from our other Caricom partners.”