The following provides additional news and comments about the particular needs of women in the aftermath of the the earthquake in Haiti:
(A)s health and safety conditions in the capital city worsen, putting Haitian women and children at particular risk for disease and sexual exploitation.
Reports show that violence against women and girls was already common in Haiti before the earthquake. In a 2006 study by the Inter-American Development Bank, one-third of women and girls said they had suffered physical or sexual violence, and more than half of those were younger than 18.
“We have to keep in mind that disasters make existing inequalities even worse,” said Marijke Velzeboer-Salcedo, an expert on gender issues for the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization. “Those who are stronger and more powerful, whether physically or psychosocially — or both — are going to have better access to scarce resources. But when women are deprived of resources, entire families are likely to be deprived, too.”
About 37,000 pregnant women affected by the earthquake are in desperate need of food, clean drinking water and access to health care, said Franck Geneus, who directs health programs in Haiti for CARE, an Atlanta-based nonprofit group that helps women and children around the world. As many as 10,000 of the women could give birth in the next month.
Workers in the battered town of Leogane carefully planned the distribution of hygiene kits by first sending in an assessment team and coordinating with local leaders to ensure that the neediest women would be helped, officials said. The goal is to prevent the aid from ending up in the hands of people who try to sell it or force women to trade sexual favors for food and supplies.
“Stand in line! Stop pushing!” officers yelled as others handed out bags of rice, corn, sardines, sausages and beans. There were separate lines for men and women. But only men were at the front, clawing for the food; women and children waited behind in longer lines that did not move.
“From the minute the buildings fell,” Liliane informs me, “women were there and everywhere. They were leading the way into buildings; leading stunned children into safety; tending to the wounded; screaming and demanding help; speaking to the foreign media and CNN; setting up instant street kitchens and camps; singing, witnessing, praying.”
“There’s no doubt that the earthquake has had a massive impact on Haitian women,” Liliane confirms, “in ways that we as feminists and women leaders have yet to really take in—we haven’t been able to analyze this. It’s just survival now. We’re so busy trying to cope right this minute, to just get through this day. But we know… I know… it’s huge.”
There has been a lot of concern that the humanitarian aid is currently lacking in gender-sensitivity – not just in terms of what is being distributed, but also how it is distributed. In isolated areas, the aid is distributed by air, leaving women and children vulnerable to abuse. The reports we have heard so far about the plight of women and girls on the ground affirms our fear that risk of gender and sexual violence escalates during times of such grave crisis. It is very important to give visibility to the needs of women and girls, as well as to the importance of including women in the decision-making of all reconstruction efforts and aid distribution.
The resource mobilization to respond to the tragedy has been impressive. UN agencies, governments, cooperative agencies, relief organizations, individual donors and other actors are raising funds from all over the world to address the immediate needs of Haitians. Equally important and impressive has been the response of international women’s movements. Feminist and women’s organizations from around the world are sending support or offering technical assistance to help Haitian women with the reconstruction of their communities. The Latin American and Caribbean women’s movements have quickly mobilized resources to prioritize the distribution of gender-sensitive assistance, as well as to revitalize the Haitian women’s movement. While the response has been encouraging, the needs are increasing and the conditions are increasingly chaotic. Thousands of Haitians, mainly women and children are crossing the border to seek assistance on the Dominican side or are trying to leave in small boats, risking their lives in order to get to the US. The government of Dominican Republic estimates that more than 10,000 people are already across the border, where conditions are not suitable to establish camps with basic services.
Besides the much-needed humanitarian aid, we need to ensure that long-term support for the reconstruction phase and to protect women and children from violence, as well as support to ensure that women will be participate in decision making are crucial in the following months. The Latin American and Caribbean feminist movement is coordinating efforts in an unprecedented manner. Coalitions to respond to the crisis, e-mail lists, blogs, joint statements and other actions have been established to coordinate and organize long-term strategies to support women and children. (Continue reading here.)
Madre’s Yifat Susskind:
Right now, there is a window of opportunity to ensure that Haiti’s reconstruction process upholds the full range of women’s human rights and uses gender awareness as a starting point for successful recovery efforts. Nothing less than the future of Haiti is at stake.
Eve Ensler on the sad death of Haitian feminist leader Myriam Merlet:
And CNN with more on Merlet as well as 2 other prominent Haitian women, Anne Marie Coriolan and Magalie Marcelin.
Finally, Cynthia McKinney has written an excellent piece addressing the implicit racism and militarism in the U.S.government’s response to Haiti,
President Obama’s response to the tragedy in Haiti has been robust in military deployment and puny in what the Haitians need most: food; first responders and their specialized equipment; doctors and medical facilities and equipment; and engineers, heavy equipment, and heavy movers. Sadly, President Obama is dispatching Presidents Bush and Clinton, and thousands of Marines and U.S. soldiers. By contrast, Cuba has over 400 doctors on the ground and is sending in more; Cubans, Argentinians, Icelanders, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and many others are already on the ground working–saving lives and treating the injured. Senegal has offered land to Haitians willing to relocate to Africa.
The United States, on the day after the tragedy struck, confirmed that an entire Marine Expeditionary Force was being considered “to help restore order,” when the “disorder” had been caused by an earthquake striking Haiti; not since 1751, 1770, 1842, 1860, and 1887 had Haiti experienced an earthquake. But, I remember the bogus reports of chaos and violence the led to the deployment of military assets, including Blackwater, in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. One Katrina survivor noted that the people needed food and shelter and the U.S. government sent men with guns. Much to my disquiet, it seems, here we go again. From the very beginning, U.S. assistance to Haiti has looked to me more like an invasion than a humanitarian relief operation.
It’s a thought-provoking piece and I recommend it in its entirety.