One woman fights a lonely battle in Haiti election

For Judie Roy, the only woman among 34 candidates for president of Haiti in elections to be held in January, the face of poverty in one of the world’s poorest countries is female.

“All that is misery, all that is poverty is female in Haiti. That must be changed,” says Roy.

And while the 41-year-old mother of six has lived in Europe and holds a doctorate in political economy from the Universite Libre de Bruxelles, she says she identifies with the suffering of both sexes in Haiti.

“I am a synthesis. I’m a woman, a mother, and a professional. I live the suffering of women and I know the misery of men,” says Roy.

In a country where politics is dominated by men, Roy has a substantial résumé. She founded the Patriotic Coalition for National Renewal, and has run for mayor of Port au Prince.

The outspoken opponent of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide was imprisoned for eight months during his presidency, and says she was tortured by police.

“I was the flag-bearer for the resistance to Jean Bertrand Aristide. Today I am the voice of women in the elections because we have strategic interests to defend,” she says.

Haiti is scheduled to hold elections on January 8, the first since Aristide fled in the face of a popular uprising in February 2004. But the date has been postponed three times already and could be put back again.

The United Nations and other major donor nations say the elections will be an essential step in efforts to put the impoverished nation on a new footing.

Roy argues that her political platform, based on equality for all Haitians, is one of the few that offers a coherent vision for the Caribbean nation. And while polls give her little chance of winning, she “dares” Haitians to elect her.

Roy was not invited to participate in candidate debates in Port au Prince, and she goes unrecognised on the streets of the Haitian capital.

But she believes she has a chance.

“I work close to the little people — rural women and women in the markets recognise and support me,” she says.

Women who run for office in Haiti are backed by the UN and a local feminist group. Under Haitian electoral law, political parties who present women candidates are subsidised.

A total of 110 women are running in legislative elections, competing for 130 seats in Haiti’s congress, according to the feminist group Women Are Present.

But Roy says she is fighting her electoral battle alone.

“They don’t ask how our campaign is going. The parties that present women don’t really support them,” she says.

She calls on women to get involved to change the fate of Haitian women and lay the foundation for “a more equitable society where men and women will be on the same footing”.

Since Aristide fled, a UN force of about 7 000 international troops and police has struggled to maintain law and order.

The electoral process is daunting. Election materials destined for remote villages sometimes must be carried on the backs of animals due to the lack of roads and infrastructure. — AFP

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