April 28, 2011 by Gina Athena Ulysse

Haitian feminist Yolette’s Jeanty‘s name may not ring a bell, but her tireless work has been rightfully recognized recently. As executive director of Kay Fanm (in Kreyol, House of Women)–an organization whose mission is to fight for social justice and women’s rights–Jeanty has been an advocate and supporter of women and girls for decades.

This past Tuesday, April 26, at the seventh annual Global Women’s Rights Awards, the Feminist Majority Foundation honored Jeanty and three other feminist activists, including Sunita Viswanath, founder of Women for Afghan Women ; Renee Montagne, co-host of NPR’s Morning Edition ; and Aung San Suu KyiBurma’s democracy movement leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

The Eleanor Roosevelt Award, which these women received, is “given annually to a select few individuals who have contributed significantly–often against great odds and at great personal risk–to advance the rights of women and girls and to increase awareness of the injustices women face on account of their gender.”  Past honorees include Laurie David, environmental crusader and producer of An Inconvenient Truth ; Dolores Huerta, the human-rights activist and co-founder of the United Farm Workers ; Jody Williams, coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate ; and Ms. magazine cofounder and feminist stalwart, Gloria Steinem.

At the event, co-chaired by Mavis and Jay Leno together with Eleanor Smeal, Jeanty spoke of the difficulty that small, women-led NGO’s such as Kay Fanm face. In the panel discussion that concluded the night’s activities, Kathy Spillar, executive editor of Ms. magazine and executive vice president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, pointedly asked Jeanty why so little, if any, of the billions of dollars raised for Haitian earthquake victims still has not reached grassroots organizations such as Kay Fanm.

Jeanty’s response revealed the complex interconnections between Haiti’s compromised sovereignty and the distribution of international funds, and how Haitians are thus impeded from playing a larger role in their own affairs :

Most of the money went to big NGOs or is being dispersed by the HIRC (Haiti International Reconstruction Committee) headed by Bill Clinton. Decisions are being made mostly by foreigners. [We have to deal with] 1) people who don’t think Haitian can do for ourselves, so they will do for us ; 2) those who are there only to fill their pockets or 3) those with really good intentions who have no knowledge of the terrain. For the last year, Kay Fanm has been working to educate our foreign partners especially in the reality of life on the ground, and has asked them to put pressure on their governments to change the ways things are being done.

Serving as her translator, I had the opportunity to speak further with Jeanty. We discussed the delicate issue of the impact of media’s and even feminist reporting’s nearly solitary focus on gender-based violence and rape in Haiti. Indeed, in the last year, since the initial Madre report on rape in IDP camps in Haiti, this issue continues to garner tremendous attention. Jeanty is concerned that other persistent issues, such as battery and domestic violence–the percentage of which is higher than rape–has been marginalized. Since the quake, prostitution has also skyrocketed, yet remains undiscussed. Moreover, the structural, social, economic and political problems that undergird the tendency for violence also fall by the wayside. She said :

[In some ways], this attention is undoing our efforts. Work that we have done for years. Rape and gender-based violence existed well before the earthquake. It is not a new phenomenon. Whenever there is political turmoil, it is on the bodies of women that the battle is fought. In times of crises, it always increases everywhere. The situation for Haitian women is no different. … Worse, this emphasis hurts for the way that it represents Haitians solely as predators and victims.

This recognition could not arrive at a better time, bringing attention to Jeanty and the work of Kay Fanm. The organization has yet to recover from the serious setbacks endured in the earthquake, including the loss of founding members and allies as well as destruction of their property, which has yet to be rebuilt. Kay Fanm continues to struggle to offer shelter, along with medical and legal assistance, to girls and women in need.

In spite of the fact that Kay Fanm does not provide abortions, the organization also recently fell victim to the anti-abortion wave that threatens funding of women’s health across the world. Earlier this month, they lost the financial backing of Canada’s Development and Peace, which has supported them for the last 20 years. The Canadian organization bended under pressure from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has called for halting funds to organizations that are not pro-life.

Jeanty hopes this award will open doors for Kay Fanm in the U.S. to work in solidarity with new partners, especially other feminist organizations who are as determined to win the fight for women’s equal rights and empowerment.

The Feminist Majority Foundation’s Eleanor Roosevelt Awards for Global Women’s Rights are held at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Tuesday.

By April 27, 2011 7 :58 pm ET

Via http ://patch.com/california/beverlyhills/lenos-host-event-honoring-extraordinary-women

Mavis and Jay Leno hosted an event Tuesday night in Beverly Hills to recognize the courage of people fighting on the front lines for women’s rights worldwide.

The seventh annual Eleanor Roosevelt Awards for Global Women’s Rights presented by the Feminist Majority Foundation were held at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Mavis Leno has been a member of the Feminist Majority Foundation since 1997 and is chair of the organization’s Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls.

“I’ve been a feminist all my life and I just felt like I wanted to give back,” Mavis Leno said. “I felt there were some things that feminists in the U.S. weren’t addressing, like helping our sisters in other countries, so the Feminist Majority Foundation was exactly what I was looking for, because it helps women in the U.S. and globally.”

The Lenos host the awards ceremony every year because it is an effort they both support, Jay Leno said.

“It’s a great cause—and there are a lot of great causes out there, so you try to do them all—but this is a very special one for us,” he said.

The event brings awareness to how women are treated in other countries such as Afghanistan, Jay Leno said.

“When you talk to people, they think Afghanistan has always been that way, but it hasn’t. Women used to be doctors and lawyers,” Jay Leno said. “The Taliban is like modern day slavery and it’s happening right in front of people’s eyes and they don’t see it.”

This year’s awards honored four women who have worked to make the world a better place for women and girls, often at great personal risk to themselves. The honorees were Yolette Jeanty, a leader of one of Haiti’s most powerful feminist organizations ; Renee Montagne, correspondent and co-host of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition ; Sunita Viswanath, founder of Women for Afghan Women ; and Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and leader of the democracy movement in Myanmar.

“People need to know what these women are doing. We need to get money to these grass-roots organizations, and that’s one of the things the Feminist Majority Foundation does,” said Katherine Spillar, executive editor of Ms. magazine and one of the evening’s presenters. “We try to make sure that humanitarian assistance money is earmarked for women and girls in areas where it is going.”

In Haiti, Jeanty leads Kay Fanm in its efforts to eradicate rape and violence against women in the aftermath of last year’s earthquake.

“I feel very honored, not just for myself, but for my entire country, and for the organization that I am representing,” Jeanty said, speaking in French through a translator. “This is an opportunity to let people know about the situation in Haiti. Women were already living in a precarious situation, and it has deteriorated since the earthquake.”

Montagne has traveled to Afghanistan five times for NPR, reporting on the hardships and triumphs of women and girls in that war-torn country.

“It was an inspiring place to go,” Montagne said. “You start caring about the women there—and they are very strong women.”

Viswanath founded Women for Afghan Women 10 years ago in New York City. The organization establishes centers for women in Afghanistan whose lives are threatened by domestic violence.

“Over the years we have grown by leaps and bounds in Afghanistan. We have lawyers who help women who experience human rights violations,” Viswanath said. “Our methods are very community-based. We solve the problems using the traditions of the community.”

Suu Kyi has remained a tireless advocate for human rights in Myanmar, despite serving 15 years under house arrest. Suu Kyi was not present to receive her award because, while she has been released from house arrest, she cannot leave the country.

“If she leaves, they won’t let her back in,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “She has led the democracy movement in Burma [now known as Myanmar] with great personal sacrifice.”

The awards were preceded by a silent auction and then a live auction with Jay Leno serving as auctioneer. A panel discussion was held after the awards to discuss the work of the honorees and how the work of the Feminist Majority Foundation intertwines with what they are doing.

“I don’t think people are aware of how many women’s organizations are fighting for women’s rights around the world—and in some of the most dangerous places,” Smeal said.