Under the leadership of the mayor's office, the city council hastened to remedy overcrowding in the public markets and undertook a major street cleaning program. Masks and hand sanitizers were distributed, and many wash stations were set up throughout the community. The town hall also launched an awareness-raising campaign, but because there were not a great number of cases, people were not convinced that the virus existed and ignored the prescribed safety measures.
“It hurt to see people not believe,” said Ms. Pierre. “Perhaps they did so by ignorance, or perhaps they needed to keep going out there to earn a living to feed their families.” Nevertheless, the city council continues to mobilize and educate people on the dangers of the coronavirus.
On empowering other women
A feminist (“though, not an extremist,” she smiled), Ms. Pierre is a strong advocate of empowering women and young girls. She founded two women’s associations, the Northern Coalition of Women’s Organizations (REOFEN) and the Haiti Association of Women in Action (AFAD). She founded REOFEN after the January 2010 earthquake to aid displaced individuals and families who had left the devastated Port-au-Prince area and sought refuge in Cap-Haïtien. Her associations have since organized many activities that support women and young people in need, including offering training to women retailers (“les marchandes”) to help them better manage their small business loans. According to Ms. Pierre, there is value in helping women, especially young ones.
I think it is important to educate young girls so that they can assert themselves, direct their lives, and become useful to their country in the future,” said Mayor Pierre.
“This country is going through a crisis; we have lost many of the values that make us proud and dignified individuals. Women have the power to change that. There are more of us [women] than men in Haiti; it is up to us to bring about that change in the way we educate our children at home and in our schools [civic education] so that we may regain all that we have lost.”
On the role of women in politics
Yvrose Pierre has had strong female role models to look up to, starting with her own mother, Yvonne Pierre-Louis. An illiterate woman, Ms. Pierre-Louis raised seven children on her own with earnings as a small retailer.
My mother always said that we have to leave our mark where we live. We have to serve our society, our country, our community. And that is what has motivated me to always try to make a difference,” explained Ms. Pierre.
Women have always distinguished themselves in Haiti’s history. Ms. Pierre cites Sanité Bélair and Dédée Bazile, known as Défilée la Folle, as two of her favorite heroines. Sanité Bélair was a lieutenant in the Haitian army and led her troops against Napoleon’s ferocious French Army led by the infamous General Rochambeau during the Battle of Vertières, which eventually won Haiti its independence. Dédée Bazile was brave enough to recover Emperor Dessalines’s body after he was murdered by his former comrades (with his body then stoned and mutilated by the crowds) and bury him. This was very risky in the political climate of the times. “They were both extremely courageous women in adverse environments who did not back down in the face of danger. I aspire to be like them every day.”
But there are many challenges for women in politics in Haiti. Most of them are reluctant to run for public office because they are afraid of being a target of both media damage and actual physical harm. Furthermore, men usually do not wish for their wives to go into politics for many reasons—and may at times forbid it. The main reason cited is that women are needed at home to manage the house and the children. And perhaps a more pernicious fact, according to Ms. Pierre, is that women are often the victims of sexual harassment by men if they are allowed to participate in politics. For these many reasons, during the 2016 elections, only 3 out of the 19 communes of the North Department had women as head of their cartel: Acul-du-Nord, Borgne, and Dondon.
“This is disappointing because women are capable of so much more,” stated Mayor Pierre. “I tell my own girls, ‘True beauty lies in your intelligence, in the knowledge that you procure; we, as women, must educate ourselves.’”
Women bring about great change. “Take Ertha Pascal-Trouillot, for example,” Ms. Pierre pointed out. “She was able to organize Haiti’s first free democratic elections. We have not seen that quality of elections since then.” Supreme Court Justice Trouillot became Haiti’s first woman president from 1990 to 1991 and managed Haiti’s transition from a dictatorship to a nascent democracy.
When asked if she aspired to climb higher in politics, Mayor Pierre had this to say: “I could probably run for legislative elections, and maybe win. But I choose not to because it would take me away from my city. Here, in my community, side by side with my people, I can make a bigger difference.”