religious/legal marriage is still considered the most prestigious form of union (N’Zengou- Tayou, 1998). According to Danièle Magloire, who directs an organization for women’s rights in Port-au-Prince,
“In Haiti, the great majority of families are characterized by customary unions “viv avek” [“living with”] and by female single-parenting. Life conditions in these families are often very difficult especially when fathers refuse to take [financial] responsibility for their children. Moreover, an important proportion of children born from unknown [or undeclared] fathers, poses a serious problem at filial and social levels. The viv avek status also has consequences on the number of children (between 5 and 7 per woman) and on [the spread of] the AIDS epidemic… In the matrifocal system of Haitian families, given the economic context of the country, women shoulder several essential functions but face important
discrimination on economic, judicial and educational levels Lecomte & Raphaël, 2008).
Gender roles are well defined within couples: women are responsible for market transactions, management of the family budget, food preparation, and care of the children. Generally, men are responsible for agricultural work, providing for the family, and repair and maintenance of the home (Miller, 2000). Various degrees of status exist for women, from fanm mariye (spouse), to fanm kay (house woman) or fanm jaden (garden woman). Rural women migrating to the city constitute one of the most marginalized groups in society. Many are unemployed, single parents, and end up living in the slums of Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haïtien and Gonaïves. Single mothers may have to resort to exchanging sex for cash or other resources for their families, or can be found vending goods and food on the street (Bell, 2001).
Elderly parents are highly respected and often cared for by their children or their relatives. If three or more generations are living in the house, power and authority are generally assumed in the following order: grandparents, father, mother, the eldest child and so on. Most Haitians have no old age pensions, savings or social security. Their children are their source of social security (Caribbean Country Management Unit, 2006). This is exemplified in the proverb “Timoun se richès malèrè” (Children are the wealth of the poor).
Children are raised with great discipline, and physical correction is often used in Haitian households. When children violate the rules or disobey, corporal punishment such as spanking, beating with a switch or a belt is considered an acceptable form of punishment. In middle and lower income families, child rearing is shared by the parents and older siblings. Male children are often accorded more prestige than female children (Gopaul- McNicol, Benjamin-Dartigue, & Francois, 1998).