In Haiti, as is always true in the aftermath of a major disaster, in addition to the urgent need for what we traditionally consider the pillars of immediate aid–food, water, shelter, medical care–there are needs that are specific to women, particularly for pregnant women and mothers with new babies and the need to address the added vulnerability to violence that women face when government infrastructures are dysfunctional. According to the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA):
(W)omen of reproductive age face limitations in accessing pre-natal and post-natal care, as well as greater risk of vaginal infections, pregnancy complications including spontaneous abortion, unplanned pregnancy, and post-traumatic stress. An increase in violence against women was also recorded…
…(I)n natural disaster situations and in post-disaster recuperation, the cases of violence may increase. “Given the stress that this situation caused and the life in the refuges, men attacked women more frequently.
Additionally as the MIndanao Commission on Women and Mothers for Peace Movement points out:
women suffer most from the impact of climate change and natural disasters because of discrimination and poverty. The same happened to women victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami as documented in a report on “Gender and Climate Change.”
Tracy Clark-Flory addresses these issues relative to providing aid in Haiti in a piece on Salon’s Broadsheet:
It isn’t just that women often require special care and resources post-disaster; human rights organizations say that they could also play a critical role in distributing much-needed aid. Women “are central actors in family and community life,” says Enarson, and are more likely to know “who in the neighborhood most needs help — where the single mothers, women with disabilities, widows and the poorest of the poor live.” Diana Duarte, a spokesperson for MADRE, an international women’s rights organization that has joined the relief effort, put it this way: “Women are often more integrated and more aware of the vulnerabilities of their communities.”
Even beyond the initial emergency response, there lies a long road to recovery that holds other unique challenges for women and girls. They are “at increased risk of gender-based violence, especially domestic violence and rape but also forced marriage at earlier ages” due to their increased dependence on men for protection and support, says Enarson. After a disaster of this magnitude, there will also be scores of “newly disabled, widowed or homeless women” in need of help. MADRE’s Duarte points out that women’s generally higher “level of poverty negatively effects their ability to access resources to rebuild.”
Clark-Flory also points to the work of the Gender and Disaster Network which calls for a gender-responsive approach to aid in Haiti and has a wealth of resources on the topic here.
Madre’s Marie St. Cyr and Yifat Susskind offer this excellent view of what such an approach needs to look like in Haiti,
All Haitians are suffering right now. But, women are often hardest hit when disaster strikes because they were at a deficit even before the catastrophe. In Haiti, and in every country, women are the poorest and often have no safety net, leaving them most exposed to violence, homelessness and hunger in the wake of disasters. Women are also overwhelmingly responsible for other vulnerable people, including infants, children, the elderly, and people who are ill or disabled.
Because of their role as caretakers and because of the discrimination they face, women have a disproportionate need for assistance. Yet, they are often overlooked in large-scale aid operations. In the chaos that follows disasters, aid too often reaches those who yell the loudest or push their way to the front of the line. When aid is distributed through the “head of household” approach, women-headed families may not even be recognized, and women within male-headed families may be marginalized when aid is controlled by male relatives.
It is not enough to ensure that women receive aid. Women in communities must also be integral to designing and carrying out relief efforts. When relief is distributed by women, it has the best chance of reaching those most in need. That’s not because women are morally superior. It is because their roles as caretakers in the community means they know where every family lives, which households have new babies or disabled elders, and how to reach remote communities even in disaster conditions.
Moreover, women in the community have expertise about the specific problems women and their families face during disasters.
Unfortunately, in big relief operations, already-marginalized people are usually the ones who “fall through the cracks.
None of this sits too well with the men’s rights movement. Robert Franklin, Esq. has this to say at Men’s News Daily:
(A)ccording to Clark-Flory, “women in general will be in need of ‘hygiene supplies…” Men and boys apparently will not need those things. And “women often require special care and resources post disaster.” Men and boys don’t need those things either. Is that because men and boys are supermen who don’t need help? Or is it because they’re less deserving of it than are women and girls?
First of all, the piece did not say that men and boys don’t deserve aid, it said that women have some needs that men don’t have that also need to be addressed. Secondly (having hopefully given female readers time to pick themselves up off the floor from laughing)–apparently Mr. Franklin, Esq. does not go to the grocery or drug store very often or he would know that hygiene is our oh so clean euphemism for sanitary products–oh wait, that is a euphemism too–okay, excuse my indelicacy–it means tampons and pads that women use when they MENSTRUATE (there, I said the word). As a general rule, most of the people who use those products are FEMALE. But if Mr. Franklin, Esq. really feels that he needs them, I’m sure we can send him a box with explicit instructions on where to shove them.
As for special care, unless men get pregnant and have babies, they probably do not require that assistance either.
Over at Spearhead (they’re not subtle are they?), they also object to Gender and Disaster Network’s “Elaine Enarson (probably a Swedish woman)” saying that,
They are “at increased risk of gender-based violence, especially domestic violence and rape but also forced marriage at earlier ages” due to their increased dependence on men for protection and support.
So now when men provide women with protection and support they are suspected rapists, child molesters and batterers? Are these strange, foreign women more trustworthy than Haitian girls’ fathers, brothers and grandfathers? I try to refrain from inserting my opinion when I am writing these news pieces, but Ms. Enarson is making one of the most offensive insinuations possible with the above statement, and she is dead wrong. It is matriarchal societies where women cannot rely on men for support in which women face the most danger.
Really? Name one matriarchal society where this is or was so. And yes, women who are in general more likely to be victims of intimate violence are far more likely to be victimized when they suddenly become more physically vulnerable.
International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) offer this framework for re-prioritizing the way we offer aid:
In the face of obstacles and the needs that have been identified, the evaluation proposes a series of concrete recommendations, amongst which are to: improve the sexual and reproductive health of women and adolescents in natural disaster situations and in post-disaster recovery; ensure access to contraceptive measures, particularly condoms for the prevention of transmission of HIV; provide post-natal care; medicine to combat infections and post-traumatic stress; provide an adequate response to cases of violence against women, girls and boys; include the provision of health and legal services; and improve the security situation of shelters to prevent cases of abuse of power by guards.
The UNFPA is currently working to rush maternal health supplies to Haiti.
As Bill Quigley puts it so eloquently, we need to:
Prioritize humanitarian aid to help women, children and the elderly. They are always moved to the back of the line. If they are moved to the back of the line, start at the back.
There are several organizations that are working to provide aid to meet women’s specific needs in Haiti. The women’s human rights organization Madre is,
working to send support to women’s human rights defenders. We are hearing reports of a horror that often accompanies disasters like this – namely, an upsurge of violence against women. It’s critical that women human rights defenders in Haiti have the support they need to help survivors and reach out to women who are trying to keep themselves and their children safe in the chaos that has gripped Port-au-Prince.
You can make a donation to help their efforts here.
In addition, the U of t Feminist Law Student’s Association reports that,
V-Day is trying to reach our sisters in Port au Prince who run the V-Day Haiti Sorority Safe House, which provides shelter to women survivors of violence and their children, as well as psychological, legal and medical support. While we have not been able to reach the staff at the Safe House, it is clear that increased help will be needed for women survivors of violence in the aftermath of the earthquake. Reports state that over 50,000 lives have been lost, and that Port Au Prince has been “flattened.”