The Gendered Consequences of Natural Disasters


Editor’s Note: In March we celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. In January, the PNL received the following update regarding the situation of violence against women in the Haitian displacement camps. It’s a sobering reminder of just how far we still have to go to achieve gender equality. As long as women continue to face a disproportionate level of violence and oppression due solely to their biological sex, then we cannot pretend that there is equal opportunity politically, economically or socially. We admire many of the radical provisions included in the recommended policy at the same time as we regret that basic physical safety remains so elusive to women around the globe.

February 14 is celebrated in many communities around the world as V-Day, part of a global movement to end violence against women and girls. Each year V-Day increases awareness by focusing on a specific group of women in the world who are resisting violence with courage and vision. In 2011, V-Day’s Spotlight Campaign is on the Women and Girls of Haiti. All funds raised through the Spotlight Campaign will support a revolutionary national campaign in Haiti lead by a coalition of women activists—including longtime V-Day activist Elvire Eugene—that will address sexual violence through art, advocacy, safe shelter and legal services. We urge you to take part:

Issuing unprecedented recommendations to the Haitian government, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has granted a legal request submitted in October by a group of advocates and attorneys for displaced Haitian women including MADRE, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the CUNY School of Law. The IACHR’s groundbreaking recommendations request that the Haitian government take immediate measures to prevent sexual violence against women and girls in displace-ment camps.

“Conditions in the displacement camps, following the January 12 [2010] earthquake, have exacerbated women’s vulnera-bility to rape,” said Malya Villard-Apollon, a founding member of the women’s grassroots advocacy organization KOFAVIV (Commission of Women Victims for Victims).

Said Lisa Davis, MADRE’s Human Rights Advocacy Director and CUNY Law Professor, “The IACHR set an important precedent in taking decisive steps to set concrete recommendations before the Haitian government: increase security patrols, improve lighting in the camps, provide medical care and ensure legal accountability.”

Meanwhile, evidence has mounted that recent political instability has drastically undermined women’s safety in the camps. KOFAVIV reports that women lined up at its women’s center for days after the November presidential election.

In addition to calling for increased security and lighting, the IACHR’s sweeping recommendations advise the Haitian gov-ernment to provide medical care, including emergency contraception, for rape survivors in displacement camps. The IACHR has also recommended that the Haitian government ensure the full participation and leadership of grassroots women’s groups in anti-violence policies and practices in the camps.

“The IACHR decision is a big much needed step towards providing safety for all women,” said CCR Legal Director Bill Quigley. “It is time for the US, the UN and the international community to support the courageous women of Haiti who are providing for families in the most trying conditions. Talk is fine, but only a tiny percentage of the money promised by the US for the rebuilding effort has made it to Haiti. It is time for action.”

– Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti