Providing Gender-Responsive Aid in Haiti

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Providing Gender-Responsive Aid in Haiti

Lucinda Marshall

In Haiti, as is always true in the aftermath of a major disaster, there are urgent needs for medical care specific to women, particularly for pregnant women and mothers with new babies.

This article is cross-posted from Feminist Peace Network.

In Haiti, as is always true in the aftermath of a major disaster, in addition to the
urgent need for what we traditionally consider the pillars of immediate
aid–food, water, shelter, medical care–there are needs that are
specific to women, particularly for pregnant women and mothers with new
babies and the need to address the added vulnerability to violence that
women face when government infrastructures are dysfunctional.

to the International
Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women
(UN-INSTRAW) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

(W)omen of reproductive age face limitations in
accessing pre-natal and post-natal care, as well as greater risk of
vaginal infections, pregnancy complications including spontaneous
abortion, unplanned pregnancy, and post-traumatic stress. An increase
in violence against women was also recorded…

Roe is gone. The chaos is just beginning.

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…(I)n natural disaster situations and in post-disaster recuperation,
the cases of violence may increase. “Given the stress that this
situation caused and the life in the refuges, men attacked women more

Additionally as the MIndanao Commission on Women and Mothers for Peace Movement points out:

women suffer most from the impact of climate change and
natural disasters because of discrimination and poverty. The same
happened to women victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indian
Ocean Tsunami as documented in a report on “Gender and Climate Change.”

Tracy Clark-Flory addresses these issues relative to providing aid in Haiti in a piece on Salon’s Broadsheet:

It isn’t just that women often require special care and
resources post-disaster; human rights organizations say that they could
also play a critical role in distributing much-needed aid. Women “are
central actors in family and community life,” says Enarson, and are
more likely to know “who in the neighborhood most needs help — where
the single mothers, women with disabilities, widows and the poorest of
the poor live.” Diana Duarte, a spokesperson for MADRE,
an international women’s rights organization that has joined the relief
effort, put it this way: “Women are often more integrated and more
aware of the vulnerabilities of their communities.”

Even beyond the initial emergency response, there lies a long road
to recovery that holds other unique challenges for women and girls.
They are “at increased risk of gender-based violence, especially
domestic violence and rape but also forced marriage at earlier ages”
due to their increased dependence on men for protection and support,
says Enarson. After a disaster of this magnitude, there will also be
scores of “newly disabled, widowed or homeless women” in need of help.
MADRE’s Duarte points out that women’s generally higher “level of
poverty negatively effects their ability to access resources to

Clark-Flory also points to the work of the Gender and Disaster Network which calls for a gender-responsive approach to aid in Haiti and has a wealth of resources on the topic here.

Madre’s Marie St. Cyr and Yifat Susskind offer this excellent view of what such an approach needs to look like in Haiti,

All Haitians are suffering right now. But, women are
often hardest hit when disaster strikes because they were at a deficit
even before the catastrophe. In Haiti, and in every country, women are
the poorest and often have no safety net, leaving them most exposed to
violence, homelessness and hunger in the wake of disasters. Women are
also overwhelmingly responsible for other vulnerable people, including
infants, children, the elderly, and people who are ill or disabled.

Because of their role as caretakers and because of the
discrimination they face, women have a disproportionate need for
assistance. Yet, they are often overlooked in large-scale aid
operations. In the chaos that follows disasters, aid too often reaches
those who yell the loudest or push their way to the front of the line.
When aid is distributed through the “head of household” approach,
women-headed families may not even be recognized, and women within
male-headed families may be marginalized when aid is controlled by male

It is not enough to ensure that women receive aid. Women in
communities must also be integral to designing and carrying out relief
efforts. When relief is distributed by women, it has the best chance of
reaching those most in need. That’s not because women are morally
superior. It is because their roles as caretakers in the community
means they know where every family lives, which households have new
babies or disabled elders, and how to reach remote communities even in
disaster conditions.

Moreover, women in the community have expertise about the specific problems women and their families face during disasters.

Unfortunately, in big relief operations, already-marginalized people are usually the ones who “fall through the cracks.

None of this sits too well with the men’s rights movement.  Robert Franklin, Esq. has this to say at Men’s News Daily:

(A)ccording to Clark-Flory, ”women in general will be in
need of ‘hygiene supplies…”  Men and boys apparently will not need
those things.  And “women often require special care and resources post
disaster.”  Men and boys don’t need those things either.  Is that
because men and boys are supermen who don’t need help?  Or is it
because they’re less deserving of it than are women and girls?

First of all, the piece did not say that men and boys don’t deserve
aid, it said that women have some needs that men don’t have  that  also
need to be addressed.  Secondly (having hopefully given female readers
time to pick themselves up off the floor from laughing)–apparently Mr.
Franklin, Esq. does not go to the grocery or drug store very often or
he would know that hygiene is our oh so clean euphemism for sanitary products–oh wait, that is a euphemism too–okay, excuse my indelicacy–it means tampons and pads that women use when they MENSTRUATE
(there, I said the word). As a general rule, most of the people who use
those products are FEMALE.  But if Mr. Franklin, Esq. really feels that
he needs them, I’m sure we can send him a box with explicit
instructions on where to shove them.

As for special care, unless men get pregnant and have babies, they probably do not require that assistance either.

Over at Spearhead
(they’re not subtle are they?), they also object to Gender and Disaster
Network’s “Elaine Enarson (probably a Swedish woman)” saying that,

They are “at increased risk of gender-based violence,
especially domestic violence and rape but also forced marriage at
earlier ages” due to their increased dependence on men for protection
and support.

with this,

So now when men provide women with protection and
support they are suspected rapists, child molesters and batterers? Are
these strange, foreign women more trustworthy than Haitian girls’
fathers, brothers and grandfathers? I try to refrain from inserting my
opinion when I am writing these news pieces, but Ms. Enarson is making
one of the most offensive insinuations possible with the above
statement, and she is dead wrong. It is matriarchal societies where
women cannot rely on men for support in which women face the most

Really?  Name one matriarchal society where this is or was so.  And
yes, women who are in general more likely to be victims of intimate
violence are far more likely to be victimized when they suddenly become
more physically vulnerable.

Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women
(UN-INSTRAW) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
offer this framework for re-prioritizing the way we offer aid:

In the face of obstacles and the needs that have been
identified, the evaluation proposes a series of concrete
recommendations, amongst which are to: improve the sexual and
reproductive health of women and adolescents in natural disaster
situations and in post-disaster recovery; ensure access to
contraceptive measures, particularly condoms for the prevention of
transmission of HIV; provide post-natal care; medicine to combat
infections and post-traumatic stress; provide an adequate response to
cases of violence against women, girls and boys; include the provision
of health and legal services; and improve the security situation of
shelters to prevent cases of abuse of power by guards.

The UNFPA is currently working to rush maternal health supplies to Haiti.

As Bill Quigley puts it so eloquently, we need to:

Prioritize humanitarian aid to help women, children and
the elderly. They are always moved to the back of the line. If they are
moved to the back of the line, start at the back.

There are several organizations that are working to provide aid to
meet women’s specific needs in Haiti.  The women’s human rights
organization Madre is,

working to send support to women’s human rights
defenders. We are hearing reports of a horror that often accompanies
disasters like this – namely, an upsurge of violence against women.
It’s critical that women human rights defenders in Haiti have the
support they need to help survivors and reach out to women who are
trying to keep themselves and their children safe in the chaos that has
gripped Port-au-Prince.

You can make a donation to help their efforts here.

In addition, the U of t Feminist Law Student’s Association reports that,

V-Day is trying to reach our sisters in
Port au Prince who run the V-Day Haiti Sorority Safe House, which
provides shelter to women survivors of violence and their children, as
well as psychological, legal and medical support. While we have not
been able to reach the staff at the Safe House, it is clear that
increased help will be needed for women survivors of violence in the
aftermath of the earthquake. Reports state that over 50,000 lives have
been lost, and that Port Au Prince has been “flattened.”

You can donate to VDay’s Haiti Rescue Fund here.