Haiti: Thoughts on Women

KOFAVIV – The Commission of Women Victims for Victims [working with women who have been raped] has issued a report from Haiti.

Because of where the catastrophe hit in Haiti the majority of victims are woman of Kofaviv and many of them died with all of their family, the rest that are left are sleeping under the stars, their houses destroyed with everything in it in the process.  Actually many women are sleeping in Chanmas in bad conditions, in the damp night air, where the sun beats on them, rain falls on them, damp air hits them, many of them lost a lot of their family, we can say, many of them already did not have anything to their name, now hunger almost kills them.

The report is a very personal one and speaks to the particular conditions women are having to struggle for their survival.   [I am no longer naming the earthquake a “disaster”  because of the way the media is using the word which implies the massive loss of life was due solely to an uncontrollable force. ] As in other regions of extreme poverty and militarisation it is largely women  and children who are the most vulnerable due to gender disparities and sexism. They face sexual and domestic violence, assault and  they are often the last to gain access to food, water and medical care as the fight for survival reaches critical conditions.     Children more so now than ever, are  vulnerable to sexual exploitation and who is authorising the many “orphaned” children who are been fast tracked through the adoption process to Canada, France and the US within days. How are we sure they are orphaned and do not have relatives searching for them at this very moment?   I don’t believe one single child should leave the island at this moment – the cost of flying them to Canada and France can be used to provide them with the proper care they need in Haiti- it’s like kidnapping.   This is why it is so important for foreign aid agencies to work with local groups – to search them out and not assume they dont exist – just takes a little effort.

Below are some of the publications and articles which directly address the need for a gendered and child centered approach towards “relief and recovery”.

The Gender and Disaster Network point to the importance of recognising the unique needs of  women and men,  girls and boys, taking into consideration, health – pregnant and breast feeding women, people living with HIV or AIDS, the chronically ill – the elderly, youths,  and disabled people.  They provide a comprehensive list of  grassroots women’s organisations and groups in Haiti and ask that we think carefully about what ways we can provide support in addition to donating money.    I would add to the list Famm Voudou pou Ayiti (Voudou Women for Ayiti)  [See this on misrepresentations of Voudou] Madam Evonne Auguste, who I met in August 2007 and do not know yet if she made it or not.  Although I do not have a contact for her, the organisation can be reached through SOPUDEP which should also be on the list.

Incite, Women of Colour Against Violence published a document following the Katrina Hurricane on the horrendous conditions faced by the affected communities and which are now taking place in Haiti.    They have also published a list of partner organisations and are calling on everyone to educate themselves on the history of Haiti, [here’s a start] the intersection of gender violence and disaster  vulnerabilities, identify patterns of disaster and conflict impact on marginalised communities/

As many of us work to figure out appropriate strategies to support the people of Haiti, it’s important to note that the people most vulnerable—namely, women, LGBT folks, people with disabilities, incarcerated people, children, and elders—can experience a slower unfolding of specific crises that are consequences of the original disaster and the social conditions that preceded the disaster.

There is also the increased militarisation with  thousands of additional UN forces and US military both of whom have a record of brutality in Haiti, and which can only intensify  the suffering already being experienced.  Again and again I spoke with women of all ages who reported acts of violence by the security forces,  against them personally or their fathers, husbands and sons which has left them in even greater poverty.  One of the most common themes I met with was the demand for the return of President Bertrand Aristide – the only Haitian leader to have to have been freely elected and who worked on behalf of the poor but was constantly undermined by the US and eventually removed with their consent.

What we are witnessing is an invasion of battalions of military personal,  journalists and mega  aid agencies which can often  bring with them additional problems due to insensitivity, preconceived ideas of the country and a lack of gender analysis. See the  Red Cross in Katrina and  Christian Aid‘s previous  record in Haiti    As one twitter asked – who is feeding them and on what?  How much of the resources are they eating up?  How much of their needs are preventing urgent medical equipment and food  reaching the Haitian people?  And all this so they can report that people are “scavenging” and “looting”,  gorge on people’s misery.  Write about the need to protect food from hungry people and hospitals from the wounded.    A disgusting shameful spectacle – the real long term disaster is the one  being set in place by yet more  cultures of violence and greed.

Yesterday I heard someone from the Red Cross blaming some of the failures on a lack of local organisaitons to work with.  Well  here are some local organisations to donate to –  ones that have been there for years – not big names but actually working with people.

Haiti Action Emergency Relief Fund,

SOPUDEP

Dwa Fanm – Womens Rights

Partners in Health

More Womens Organisations here

Finally if you havent already read it – Shailja Patel’s Ten Point Action Plan for Haiti which should also be sent to Mr Obama with the added question on whether he is in control of the US or is it his army generals and if it is him – why is he acting like a war monger?  In whos interest is Haiti going to be rebuilt by the military, aid agencies which act for their governments and the US? In the interest of Haitian business elite or the people?

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