KOFAVIV (The Commission of Women Victims for Victims, which works 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 women... 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. Actually, many women are sleeping 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 against for their survival. (I am no longer naming the earthquake a 'disaster' because of the way the media is using the word, which implies that the massive loss of life was due solely to an uncontrollable force.) As in other regions of extreme poverty and militarization, it is largely women and children who are the most vulnerable, thanks to gender disparities and sexism. They face sexual and domestic violence and 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 exactly is authorizing the fast-tracking of many 'orphaned' children through the adoption process to Canada, France and the US? 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 could be used to provide them with the proper care they need in Haiti - it's like kidnapping.
Yesterday, 26th January, there was a report that the Haitian Government had now stopped this 'kidnapping' spree. But the fact remains that for two weeks it was allowed to happen. What will the legal implications be if some of the children are not orphans, or have family who want them returned? This is why it is so important for foreign aid agencies to work with local groups. To search them out and not assume they don't exist just takes a little effort.
Below are some of the publications and articles which directly address the need for a gendered and child-centred approach towards 'relief and recovery'.
The Gender and Disaster Network points to the importance of recognizing the unique needs of women and men, girls and boys and of taking into consideration health (thousands of pregnant women for example, are at risk of losing their babies if they don't receive appropriate medical care; plus breastfeeding women, people living with HIV or AIDS, the chronically ill); the elderly, youth, and disabled people. They provide a comprehensive list of grassroots women's organizations 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] I met Madam Evonne Auguste in August 2007 and do not know yet if she made it or not. Although I do not have a contact for her, the organization can be reached through SOPUDEP which should also be on the list, as should Haiti Action and Partners in Health - see below.
Incite, Women of Colour Against Violence published a document following Hurricane Katrina on the horrendous conditions faced by the affected communities; conditions which are affecting Haiti. They have also published a list of partner organizations and are calling on everyone to educate themselves on the history of Haiti and the intersection of gender violence and disaster vulnerabilities, and to identify patterns of disaster and conflict impact on marginalized 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 militarization, with thousands of additional UN forces and US military on the island, 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 been freely elected and who worked on behalf of the poor, but who 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 after Katrina and Christian Aid's previous record in Haiti. As one Twitter message 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? An unlikely ally - British newspaper The Daily Mail - reports on the huge gap between the 'haves' - aid workers, US/UN military personnel, and the Haitian people who they are there to supposedly help.
'It is a tale of two cities. One has ice-cold beers, internet access, thousands of men and billions of dollars' worth of gleaming machinery, together with piles of food, blankets, generators and other aid relief from around the globe. This is the heavily fortified US-controlled Port-au-Prince airport and neighbouring United Nations compound.
The other is the devastated city of Port-au-Prince, where the stench of death fills the air and starving people are in utter despair, still in need of the basic necessities of food, water, shelter and medical care.
Never, in more than 20 years of covering disasters, has the void between the might and power of the Westernized world and the penniless and pitiful people they have been mobilized to "save" been so glaringly obvious to me.'
And all this so they can report that people are 'scavenging' and 'looting', so they can gorge on people's misery and 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 organizations to work with. Well, here are some local organizations to donate to - ones that have been there for years - not big names, but groups that are actually working with the people.