In Earthquake-torn Haiti, Women Face Double Jeopardy

Women’s rights and development activists working in Haiti say that greater attention must be paid to the immediate needs of women and girls, as well as their role in the long-term reconstruction of the devastated country. Often in humanitarian crises, women become more vulnerable to gender-based violence and abuse as the maintenance of law and order is challenged and infrastructure ceases to function.

Ninaj Raul, director of Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees (HWHR), an NGO based in Brooklyn, New York, is currently in Leogane, Haiti providing medical and nutritional aid for victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake at a grassroots level and trying to fill in the gaps larger organizations have failed to reach. She is working in collaboration with members of El Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico-Haitiana and el Movimiento Socio Cultural Para los Trabajadores Haitianos. The three groups have gone to camps and orphanages in Jacmel, Leogane, Petit Goave, Grand Goave, and Martissant.

Beyond addressing the most urgent needs, such as vaccinating people to protect them from infectious diseases and feeding women who are now unable to provide for themselves and their families, these organizations are also hoping to aid some women’s return to self-sufficiency over the longer term.

In an interview with Inter Press Service (IPS), Miriam Neptune, a filmmaker and a volunteer at HWHR, said that women are participating in various initiatives in the rebuilding process. For example, “In Leogane, there was a group of women who know how to make bricks. They said okay, if we’re stuck here, and this is where we’re living right now, maybe we can find a way to get some support to start a brick-making operation, a collective.” However, the women are tremendously vulnerable, explains Raul, “There is a lack of security, particularly for the women.”

Dr. Henia Dakkak, a technical advisor in the Humanitarian Response Branch at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), says that, besides fears about the increase of violence against displaced women, the organization is concerned about pregnant women in Haiti in the wake of the natural disaster. As a precaution, the UNFPA is distributing thousands of medical kits to expectant mothers who may not be able to reach medical facilities when they go into labor. Dakkak states that “it is estimated that there are 63,000 pregnant women in the affected area, with 7,000 due to deliver in the next month. Before the quake, Haiti was the most dangerous place to be a pregnant woman in the Western Hemisphere, with the lifetime risk of dying in childbirth one in 47.”

Experts at the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) acknowledged on Monday that the needs of women must be met in the wake of the humanitarian crisis, in order to ensure their active and effective participation in the reconstruction of their country.

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3 thoughts on “In Earthquake-torn Haiti, Women Face Double Jeopardy

  1. An Earth-quake causes heavy loss. Experts call for taking adequate precautions to minimize losses. Alarmed by the recurrence of quakes during recent years, should be taken as a signal for a major earthquake.

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