Testimonies gathered by AyiboPost seem to point to structural obstacles in the judicial system that hinder the advancement of women lawyers.
Several months later, Yvelise Saintidor recalls the remarks of a government commissioner on her « hairy feet, » the magistrate’s insistence on having her telephone number, his « inappropriate » offer to give her a smartphone and his reproaches for calls left unanswered at her work in February 2023.
The young lawyer worked for the Office for Human Rights in Haiti (BDHH). “The magistrate invited me to his home and then spoke to me about all the advantages that he usually grants to lawyers like me, such as money and the rapid delivery of their files to the investigating office for legal action,” Saintidor testifies to AyiboPost.
The professional says she rebuffed the advances of the government representative in the judicial system, and in response, she says that she was treated to a “displeased” face, at her next meeting with the government commissioner.
The magistrate invited me to his home and then told me about all the advantages that he usually grants to lawyers like me…
Saintidor’s experience takes place in a context where women lawyers are rare in the courts, despite their strong presence in most law schools in the country. Several testimonies collected by AyiboPost seem to suggest the existence in the judicial system of structural obstacles, such as the condescension of “male” colleagues, sexism and harassment of all kinds, standing in the path of women.
Female lawyers are often caught in the web of physical violence.
On September 21, 2021, as part of a case being processed at the Western Regional Office-BRO, a lawyer publicly struck and shoved a fellow attorney, before threatening to slap her.
Off balance, the lady bumped into the front door of the BRO archives office. Following the incident, she lodged a complaint with the Port-au-Prince bar’s disciplinary committee.
In a resolution dated April 14, 2023, obtained by AyiboPost, the bar suspended the attorney at-fault for three consecutive years, in accordance with Articles 62 and 65 of the decree of March 29, 1979 of the internal regulations of the Bar Association of Port- au-Prince.
As part of a case being processed at the Western Regional Office-BRO, a lawyer publicly struck and shoved a fellow attorney, before threatening to slap her.
According to Edline Raymond, former lawyer at the Petit-Goâve bar and member of the feminist organization Solidarité des femmes haïtiennes (SOFA), “many women experience these kinds of situations, but out of fear, they prefer to wall themselves in silence.”
The Port-au-Prince Bar Association, founded on June 29, 1859 under the government of Fabre Nicolas Geffrard, waited more than a century to register a female lawyer, Ertha Pascal Trouillot in 1971.
Over the years, some major female figures have been able to distinguish themselves in the profession, such as the activist attorney Mireille Durocher Bertin murdered in March 1995 in Port-au-Prince with one of her clients.
“There is a form of discrimination based on gender in the professional environment, in the sense that women are not always seen as human beings with cognitive abilities, capable of doing and acting like a man,” analyzes attorney Stéphanie Saint-Surin, who holds a Master’s degree in NGO, humanitarian and human rights law from the University of Strasbourg in France.
Many women experience these types of situations, but out of fear, they prefer to remain silent.
Women who manage to run for important positions are often seen “either as extraordinary beings or as individuals who do men’s work,” continues Saint-Surin.
Attorney Yvelise Saintidor, first became aware of the problem in February 2023, during the processing of a file at the investigating office of the Côteaux jurisdiction.
After having won approval from the judge for the trial to be held in Creole, in order to allow the accused to understand what was being said, the government prosecutor expressed his dissatisfaction by attacking the women’s team: “Where do these women come from?!” he said to them.
A lawyer present on the scene corroborated this version of the facts to AyiboPost.
“I think people should look at the contents of our files instead of the color of our dresses, and we should first be considered lawyers in our workplace, not just women,” adds the attorney.
Women who manage to run for important positions are often seen “either as extraordinary beings or as individuals who do men’s work.
Lax, unprofessional language takes place in most of the country’s courts, criticize some women lawyers. These are “predominantly male spaces, steeped in virile values,” declares Rose-Berthe Augustin, attorney at the Port-au-Prince Bar Association. The professional notes a regular occurrence of sexist allusions and remarks in these temples of justice.
Attorney Lovely Jean-Louis nods in agreement. She remembers hearing phrases like « I will listen to you, because you are a very beautiful woman, » or other remarks which would suggest that her listening, as a lawyer, is conditioned on her beauty and not on her competence.
Some lawyers push the lack of professionalism to the limit.
Attorney Yvelise Saintidor criticizes her male colleagues who persist in calling her “baby” or “sweetheart” during trials. “That’s not acceptable,” says the legal representative. “It’s because I’m a woman that my colleagues refuse to call me ‘attorney’,” says the lawyer.
Lax, unprofessional language takes place in most of the country’s courts, criticize some women attorneys. These are “predominantly masculine spaces, steeped in virile values.”
The decree of March 29, 1979 which governs the legal profession does not take into account the gendered aspect of the profession and offers no guarantees against harassment.
“But a lawyer is above all a woman, which means that she is protected by international conventions that protect women against sexual violence and harassment,” relates Lovely Jean-Louis, attorney at the Port-au-Prince Bar Association.
Victims can also contact the Disciplinary Council of the bar to which they belong. “These disciplinary councils present in all bar associations are created by the decree of 1979 and resolve disputes and misconduct between lawyers,” explains Lovely Jean-Louis.
On August 16, 2023, AyiboPost went to meet Marie Suzie Legros, current interim president of the Port-au-Prince bar.
The President revealed that she was “a little lucky,” because she did not experience many difficulties, partly because in her family, there were a large number of lawyers.
But a lawyer is above all a woman, which means that she is protected by international conventions that protect women against sexual violence and harassment.
“I set up, with a few colleagues, a commission of lawyers to combat disparities and advance the cause of women,” she confides to AyiboPost.
Meanwhile, many women who have studied law refrain from campaigning in the courts.
Edline Raymond confides that because of the challenges explained above, she finds it difficult to see herself working in a law firm. The young woman currently works for the Haitian Maritime and Navigation Service (Semanah).
Lybie, another young lawyer, who claims to have been touched inappropriately at the firm where she was interning in 2017, has left the circuit and is currently lending her services to a non-governmental organization (NGO).
Lybie refuses to give her full name to avoid negative repercussions on her career.
Cover image: freepik
Stay in touch with AyiboPost through :
► Our WhatsApp channel : click here
► Our WhatsApp Community : click here
► Our Telegram canal : click here