As Haiti continues to rebuild itself from the 2010 earthquake that left it in ruins, the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, took a different approach to its humanitarian efforts by facilitating the training of gender specialists from the country in an effort to strengthen their advocacy for gender rights. The facilitation was done through UWI's Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) between July 1-4 at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, and involved a team of gender and development specialists from UN Women and the Université Quisquéya of Haiti. Regional university director for the IGDS, Prof Verene Shepherd, believes the meeting was necessary, as it allowed the Haitian university to formalise a curriculum for the training of gender experts in an effort to replace some of their once vibrant feminists activists. “In the wake of the earthquake in Haiti, several of the gender specialists unfortunately died, and so what the Institute for Gender and Development Studies is trying to do is to help the university—in this case Quisquéya University—is to build capacity and to mainstream gender within their curriculum,” she said. She pointed out that the IGDS was not doing it in isolation, but with the support of UWI, which had carried out other social outreach activities in Haiti following the devastating earthquake that rocked the country on January 12, 2010. “It is hoped that the outcomes of the meeting will contribute to the emergence of a new generation of gender advocates in Haiti, and ensure that an increased number of women and men have a critical awareness of issues of gender and development. Additionally, a facility with completing gender analysis and gender mainstreaming is to be established,” the university said.
Prof Shepherd noted that Haitians were still struggling to deal with, for example, the role of women in politics. As such, one of the courses to be developed at the Université Quisquéya will focus on gender and power. “They are still dealing with the issue of gender quotas in Parliament and they are now putting it in the constitution that 30 per cent of the seats should go to women, but women will have to be prepared to take up their role in Parliament,” she said, before adding, “part of our mandate is to train gender practitioners and gender specialists to better understand their roles and to take these roles in society that were left vacant by those who died in the earthquake.” Prof Shepherd said some of the women who will be teaching the courses are prominent women in Haiti who are already known for their gender activism. One, for example, was a candidate in Haiti's last election. “All over the world, there still is a lack of acceptance that gender and courses that have gender are legitimate courses within universities. “So we are trying to address the need to ensure that the students are exposed to gender issues during their university education, because right now at Quisquéya University, they don't have that focus and that is what we are hoping we can contribute,” she said.