In recent years, improving one’s economic livelihood has involved three common strategies: (i) mobilizing assets such as cattle or food that can be sold following a natural disaster or during an economic slump; (ii) gaining access to labor markets and infrastructure that can generate income; and (iii) the ability to migrate to the capital (more than 75,000 migrants per year) or to industrialized countries (Caribbean Country Management Unit, 2006).
Given the country’s political and economic situation, large numbers of Haitians have migrated to Canada and the United States in search of a better life and economic advancement (Gopaul-McNicol, Benjamin-Dartigue, & Francois, 1998). There are at least 500,000 Haitians in the United States, mostly in New York, Boston, Miami and coastal cities of Texas and Louisiana (Miller, 2000). There are also about 100,000 Haitians in Montreal. Smaller numbers of Haitians have migrated to countries such as France or other Caribbean island nations. About 30% of Haitian households (up to 44% of households in metropolitan areas) have relatives living in high-income countries (Caribbean Country Management Unit, 2006). The diaspora sends more than US $800 million annually to family and friends in Haiti.
Family and Gender Relations
Craan (2002) underlines the great importance of family in Haitian society, which is heightened in times of stress and difficulties. The family in Haiti is elastic and extended and usually includes a large network of relatives, neighbors, and friends (Dauphin, 2002).
In rural Haiti, the family is organized around the lakou (courtyard), in which clusters of extended family units form an interdependent community sharing a common courtyard. Work and child-care are divided among the families sharing the courtyard. Urban families are described as less interdependent, except in shantytowns where lakous are numerous. Middle class families in urban centers are organized around a model combining Haitian and Anglo-American elements. While authority is said to be held by the father, who is often absent, the mother remains the poto mitan, the central pillar of the family. In general, mothers have responsibility for the spiritual and emotional life of the family; fathers are responsible for finances, although mothers take care of the details (Bijoux, 1990, p. 31). Female-headed houses in Haiti are very common, particularly in urban areas (Magloire, 2008). In recent years, the pressures of poverty have disrupted the lakou system, leaving many families without the support and shared parenting afforded by the lakou (Edmond, Randolp & Richard, 2007).
Common-law unions (“viv avek” or “plasaj”) are the most common conjugal patterns. Plasaj refers to a system in which a man may have several common-law wives and is expected to provide for each of them and for each child borne of that union. However,