If one can wrangle any positive shards from the rubble that now pervades Haiti’s landscape, I would say that it would be the tremendous outpouring of concern and aid. Unfortunately, such concern tends to aid and aid donations shrivel once the media moves onto its next story.
Once the Haiti earthquake is merely a blip on the mental desktop of most Americans (like Hurricane Katrina before it), the situation for the majority of Haitians will not have changed for the better. Rather, especially for women and children, the situation is likely to be even worse. This is why some organizations are targeting their aid at women and children.
As reported by Tracy Clark-Flory, the “women and children” first aid model some organizations are taking makes sense due to the fact that women and children “are typically the ones most vulnerable in the wake of a catastrophe.”
Before the earthquake, Haitian women were already dealing with extreme poverty, lack of adequate healthcare, high rates of HIV/AIDS, and huge infant and maternal mortality rates. They live in a country that only made a rape a criminal offence in 2005, where at least 50% of women living in the poorer areas of Port-au-Prince are raped. And, as reported by the UK’s Times Online, in post-earthquake Haiti, rape is rife in the makeshift camps in and around Port-au-Prince.
Haiti also has a serious child trafficking problem and huge numbers of girls working as domestic servants. The number of women and children trafficked from Haiti will likely rise post-earthquake. In fact, the UN reports children going from hospitals in Haiti, suggesting trafficking as the likely cause.
Even before the earthquake, Haitian mothers, as detailed by the International Childcare organization, had to “cope with the fact that one in eight Haitian children never live to see their fifth birthday due to infectious disease, pregnancy-related complications, and delivery-related complications. In Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, many parents cannot afford to send their children to school, give them proper medical care, or even guarantee that their children will have safe drinking water.”
For all of these reasons, Haiti needs what Lucinda Marhsall calls “Gender-Responsive Aid.” As she notes,“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.” Yifat Susskind of MADRE confirms this argument, noting “”One of the things we know is everywhere there’s this kind of disaster there’s a stark rise in violence against women in…When men deal with very, very difficult stresses, one of their outlets is violence against women.” In addition to the tendency for increased violence against women in the aftermath of a disaster (as also noted here), women are already economically disadvantaged in Haiti (due in large part to what is commonly known as the feminization of poverty).
As noted by MADRE,
“…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.
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 relatives.”
Further, to make matters even worse for Haitian women, when the earthquake hit, Haiti’s Ministry of Women was holding a meeting. Almost everyone there was killed or injured. So the very people interested in helping Haitian women were lost to the community. (For the full story, see here).
However, despite the fact women and children were ALREADY disproportionately disadvantaged in Haiti, despite the fact that Haiti has lost numerous women’s rights leaders, men’s rights activists have taken up the “you all are a bunch of man-haters” rallying cry.
For example, Robert Franklin suggests that calls like the one made by Clark-Flory “ignore men or boys in need in favor of women and girls.” Accusing her of misandry, he makes similar arguments to those put forward in the “Amidst Haiti Disaster, Women’s Groups Seek to Deny Relief to Men” article at Spearhead. Claiming that “women’s groups are heading to a disaster area with the same anti-male agenda with which we are so familiar,” pieces such as these ignore the gendered realities of our world – realities that put women at greater risk.
Such articles also ignore the fact that women get pregnant (current reports estimate that the earthquake has put at least 63,000 pregnant women at risk in Port-au-Prince alone) and also (as humorously pointed out here) fail to recognize that menstruating women require tampons and pads.
For the global mamas in Haiti, for the women and children of this, the poorest country in the Western world, we need to ensure that aid organizations are aware of gendered realities. It’s not about hating men, it’s about recognizing a gendered response to this disaster is necessary.