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In memoriam.

The world of feminism has suffered great losses in two recent disasters. The January 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti took the lives of three prominent Haitian feminists, and a plane crash in Smolensk, Poland, on April 10 resulted in the deaths of nine influential feminists and activists both in government and in the women's movement. In light of the importance of these women in their countries, and in light of the fact that so much of the work of feminist women is glossed over, forgotten, or erased after their deaths, we take this space to mourn, to remember, and to commemorate these women's lives and work.


The following women died in the January earthquake. Information about them was culled from numerous news Web sites and from the blog of CARE Australia (http://careaustralia,, whom we especially thank for their specific and detailed information about lives of these Haitian feminists.

MYRIAN MERLET had been the chief of staff of Haiti's Ministry for Gender and the Rights of Women from 2006 to 2008 and continued to serve as a top adviser there until her death. She was a leader both in the Haitian as well as the Caribbean women's movements and served as the national representative of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action. She studied economics, women's issues, feminist theory, and political sociology in Canada. She was a founder of Enfofamn, an organization promoting gender awareness through making powerful, public symbols of women's significance visible in media, including a campaign to name Haitian streets in honor of notable Haitian women in history. Merlet also succeeded in getting Eve Ensler to bring "The Vagina Monologues" to Haiti for performances there. Using the attention and funds resulting from that event, Merlet helped create the V-Day Haiti Sorority Safe House for women in Port-au-Prince. At the time of her death, she was working on a research project to serve as the background document to advocate for gender parity legislation in Haiti.

MAGALIE MARCELIN, a human rights attorney, worked pro bono fighting for the rights of women and girls in Haiti and against gender-based violence. She founded Kay Famn (Creole for "women's house") in 1987, which provided safe haven for women victims of violence and made microcredit loans to women working in markets. Marcelin accompanied victims of violence to court, served as a defense attorney for them, and provided expert testimony in trials. She organized a group of women to pack the courtroom of a domestic violence case where the defendant was a prominent man whose conviction was in doubt due to his power and influence in the country, with the result that he was convicted of battering. She was also an actress, storyteller, dancer, and comedian, using theater and literary works to educate and raise awareness about women's rights.

ANNE MARIE CORIOLAN, a political consultant, was an assistant cabinet chief in the Ministry of Women's Affairs for a term, after which she served as a senior adviser there. She was also the founder of Solidarite Fanm Ayisyen (Solidarity with Haitian Women), an organization that supported women victims of violence. Coriolan was particularly concerned with bringing judicial attention to rape, working to change the law to make rape a punishable offense. She was also involved in seeking protections for domestic workers and worked toward legal equality of women in marriage. At the time of her death, she was working on a commission for gender parity in Haiti.


We thank Elzbieta Matynia, associate professor of sociology and liberal studies and director of the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies (TCDS) at the New School for Social Research (NSSR), in collaboration with NSSR's Roch Dunin-Wasowicz, Malgorzata Bakalarz, and Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer, for ensuring that the significance of this great loss to the people of Poland is acknowledged The text of Matynia's letter to feminists worldwide follows.
April 12, 2010
      Very many of our TCDS friends and alumni, knowing of our long-time
     civic and academic engagement in Poland, have sent us letters
     expressing shock and sorrow over the tragic plane crash on
     Saturday in Smolensk. Expanding somewhat upon a special
     article in ... Gazeta Wyborcza--"The Best Women of Polish
     Politics Have Left Us"--we want to bring to your attention
     a fact that might not otherwise be widely known. A group
     of very exceptional women were on board that plane. They
     represented a variety of political viewpoints, but they
     were all highly active and brought an unaccustomed
     visibility to women in public life. Their deaths represent
     a grave loss for democratic discourse on civil rights,
     equal opportunity, affirmative action, transparency, and
     the civic life of the country.--E. M

MARIA KACZYNSKA was the wife of Lech Kaczynski, former president of Poland from 2005 to 2010. Although she was not an official public servant or a political figure in her own right, she had the courage to voice her own opinions, even in contradiction to the partisan interests of her husband's political allies. She spoke against the further anti-abortion restrictions proposed by the conservative forces in the parliament, and despite pressure from the Catholic Church, she boldly supported in-vitro fertilization procedures. She was also supportive of environmental protection groups protesting the destruction of the unique bio-habitat of the Rospuda Valley. These were her personal views, which were nevertheless important contributions to the ongoing debates.

IZABELA JARUGA-NOWACKA, an audacious and competent politician of the Left (Democratic Left Alliance), acted as though she lived in a country friendly to feminism. Known as an outspoken defender of women's rights and minorities, in left-wing governments she was Minister of Equal Status of Women and Men. She was also a deputy prime minister in Marek Belka's administration. She campaigned not only for equal rights for women and gay people, but also for the right of any "otherness" to claim its due place in the political, social, and cultural landscape of Poland.

JOANNA AGACKA-INDECKA, president of the Polish Bar Council and a legislative expert in the Polish parliament, began her career as an assistant professor at the Faculty of Law and Administration at the University of Lodz and subsequently spent a year at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago. In 1994, she was elected a member of the Human Rights Commission at the Polish Bar Council and subsequently served as a member of the District Bar Council in Lodz. In 2009, she received one of Poland s highest medals, the Polonia Restituta. A leader in the community of lawyers in Poland, she was a critical voice in current debates on the legal profession.

GRAZYNA GESICKA, an influential politician who held a Ph.D. in sociology, was chair of the Law and Justice Party's parliamentary caucus. A former minister of Regional Development, she was known for her expertise on European Union development funding. She was engaged in the underground Solidarity movement and took part in the Round Table negotiations (the sub-table on mining). After the end of communism, she was academic coordinator of the Center for the Study of the Solidarity Trade Union.

ALEKSANDRA NATALLI-SWIAT, an economist, was one of the best-known Law and Justice Party Members of Parliament and deputy chair of the party. In the 1980s, as a member of the Students' Solidarity Committee, she worked initially at the Polish Academy of Science and at the Main Office of Statistics. As deputy chair of the Parliamentary Finance Committee, she represented her party caucus in key debates on the economy. Along with Grazyna Gesicka and Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska, she was the Law and Justice Party's voice of substance and was frequently seen on the party's posters.

KRYSTYNA BOCHENEK, a three-term senator (elected from the list of the current governing party, Civic Platform), was a very popular and hardworking deputy speaker of the Senate. A former radio journalist, she was known for her imaginative health campaigns aimed at increasing blood drives and mammography exams. As the "Parliamentarian of the Polish Language," she launched a national spelling bee.

JOLANTA SZYMANEK-DERESZ, lawyer and Member of Parliament, was deputy chief of the Democratic Left Alliance and one of the central figures of the Left. She was chief of staff of President Aleksander Kwasniewski from 2000 to 2005 and was recently on board to support the presidential campaign of Jerzy Szmajdzinski (who also died in the plane crash). She was considered a very straightforward person, widely respected for her calm approach.

JANINA FETLINSKA, senator and member of the political council of the Law and Justice Party, began as a nurse and later became a physician. She published several dozen papers on nursing and on the promotion of public health. She was also the first chair of the Nurses and Community Midwives Court.

ANNA WALENTYNOWICZ was a true legend of Solidarity: her firing from her job as a crane operator prompted the Gdansk shipyard workers to go on strike in August 1980. An active member of the democratic opposition in communist Poland, she was involved in the illegal distribution of the underground newspaper called the Coastal Worker. Along with Lech Walesa, she was one of the most visible leaders of the strikes that led to the creation of the Solidarity free trade union. More recently, she stirred controversy when she became a critic of the current Polish political scene. Her shipyard story was made into a feature film, Strike, by Volker Schloendorff. In 2005, she received the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom.
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Title Annotation:News and views
Publication:Feminist Studies
Article Type:Obituary
Geographic Code:5HAIT
Date:Jun 22, 2010
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