Women and girls still suffering in Haiti

When the massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010 at least 220,000 people were killed and over 300,000 were injured. More than 293,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, leaving 1.5 million residents homeless (DEC). Two years after the quake, an estimated 500,000 Haitians continued to live in 800 camp sites, and today, nearly three years after the catastrophic event, approximately 370,000 remain in displacement camps (CNN).
According to the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, “despite the massive humanitarian response to the disaster, living conditions in the temporary settlements are dire; accessing adequate food, water, and sanitation constitutes a daily struggle for camp residents, and reports of rape and other forms of sexual violence—especially against women and girls—continue at alarming rates. Tents and other makeshift shelters provide little protection against the elements, let alone against intrusion by assailants. But physical conditions inside the camps are not the sole factor rendering internally displaced persons (IDPs) particularly vulnerable to assault. Socioeconomic marginalization and lack of participation of IDPs in governance decisions regarding security and the management of essential resources have heightened the risk that displaced women and girls will experience sexual violence” (CHRGJ).
A recent study conducted by the Center found that “14 percent of households reported that
at least one member of the household had been a victim of sexual violence since the earthquake and that 70 percent of households surveyed are more worried about sexual violence since January 2010″ (CHRGJ). Those most at risk shared the following characteristics: they were young and female, they lived in a household with three or fewer members, they had limited access to food, water, and sanitation, and they lived in camps that did not have a responsive governance structure (CHRGJ).
The individual stories are heartbreaking. One woman reported to Amnesty International,”On the evening of January 20, several young men were firing gunshots in the air. They came into our shelter and grabbed my 19-year-old niece. They just came in, grabbed her and dragged her away. … She was raped by several men. They took her at around 9 p.m. and let her go at around 2 a.m.” (CNN). Other girls and women have been forced into prostitution or transactional sex in order to obtain food and shelter. Many women are getting pregnant, leading to additional issues related to poor maternal health and illegal street abortions (CNN).
There are some signs of positive change, but they have been slow in coming: “In the first two years after the quake, sources in Haiti had estimated there were few, if any, rape convictions. But this year there have already been more than 60 convictions for sex crimes in Haiti, according to the National Human Rights Defense Network. This summer, 22 rape cases were prosecuted and there were 13 convictions, said Meena Jagannath, a lawyer who has worked with Haitian rape victims” (CNN). Women like Malya Villard-Appolon are also helping. A two-time rape survivor herself, she lost her home and her office in the quake. But that did not stop her from continuing the work of the organization she founded in 2004, KOFAVIV, which helps other survivors find safety, medical care and legal aid. In fact, her work has made such a positive impact that she has been nominated as one of this year’s top ten CNN Heroes (CNN).
Immediately following a disaster, we tend to open our hearts and our wallets in order to do what we can to help. Yet we don’t always realize that the actual event is just the beginning, and it often triggers aftershocks we can’t even imagine, including disease, malnutrition, and an increase in violence of all kinds. As we approach the three year anniversary of this devastating earthquake, consider reaching out to help once again, as the people of Haiti are still suffering.

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

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