Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. With 81 percent of the population earning less than $1 a day, life is extremely harsh for its people. More than half of Haiti’s children suffer from malnutrition. Subsidized imported food and food aid have eroded the profitability of local Haitian food production, driving many Haitian farmers out of business and leaving Haiti’s population vulnerable to economic forces far beyond their control. This poverty is the result of, and exacerbated by, years of political unrest in the country.
On Jan. 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti and devastated the country, killing an estimated 230,000. These problems have been compounded by an outbreak of cholera and a resurgence of violence after presidential elections.
Women in Haiti bear the brunt of these problems. More than 70 percent of Haiti’s households are headed by women, often with little or no support from men. At the same time, it is women in Haiti who are key to change in the country. Women are the backbone of the Haitian economy, through their entrepreneurial efforts within the domestic economy. An example of this is Fonkoze, Haiti’s highly successful bank for the organized poor. Fonkoze provides both financial and non-financial services to the rural poor in Haiti. Today, Fonkoze has more than 50,000 depositors and more than 25,000 micro-loan clients, 96 percent of whom are women. These women, all living below the poverty level, have deposited more than $4 million in savings and more than $2.6 million in loans. Haitian women are making a difference in their country’s economy as they struggle to pull themselves out of poverty.