• Visit Anne-christine D'adesky's blog, Haiti Vox, to track the global response to Haiti's earthquake.
• See the New York Times' powerful photo coverage of the aftermath of the earthquake.
• Visit the Association for Women's Rights in Development's coverage of the crisis in Haiti, including discussion of the historical context of the quake, the impact of the disaster on Haiti's women, and information on how you can show your solidarity for Haiti's people.
Holding Up Haiti: Women Respond to Nightmare Earthquake
"It's important for us to recognize how strong women have been in this; how much leadership we have shown." —Liliane Pierre-Paul
Returning to the country she was raised in to respond to the aftermath of Haiti’s January 12th earthquake, journalist Anne-christine D’adesky finds that amidst the rubble women leaders are poised to take charge.
All along the grid of streets that crisscross the Bois Verna neighborhood of Haiti's shell-shocked capital lies evidence of mass destruction in heaps of tangled concrete and twisted steel so massive one shudders to think of the people who now lie entombed there.
It's week two following le gran choc—the great shock—and everywhere one goes, from the ports to the hillsides, from the poorest shanties to the palatial homes of the rich elite, the rubble remains as a testament to the sheer leveling power of January 12’s earthquake.
Even two weeks later the earth continues to unleash daily aftershocks that both terrify and remind dazed survivors that the nightmare is not over, nor is the danger. Ironically, the only houses that have managed to escape the historic 7.0 earthquake that leveled much of the country are the elegant gingerbread-style wooden homes that are reminders of colonialism and slavery—periods that shaped Haiti’s resilience and courage as a people.
When I arrive on Saturday, January 23, there are no longer crowds of frantic relatives picking through collapsed buildings for loved ones. And there are no longer aid workers anxiously placing their ears to the giant cracks that run up the buildings—listening for the faint cries that kept hope alive day upon day. The air is getting clearer, though it's still dusty. Here and there the faintly nauseating sour-sweet smell of death rises up from giant mounds of broken cement that entomb loved ones.
Port-au-Prince has become a giant cemetery. People around me seem unable to grasp the sheer enormity of what has happened to their country. They stare at the words scrawled in Kreyol across any and all remaining walls: an X, a demoli, meaning ‘to be demolished.’ Haiti’s people are still shocked and unable to imagine how to begin grieving for their dead as they take on the challenge of living and rebuilding a future. At night, sections of the city's population are camped out, witnessing, reliving the horror out loud, laying their exhausted bodies and the few goods they could rescue in front of still-standing houses that no longer offer shelter or safety. With another shrug of the earth, they too could fall.
That's where I am told to find Liliane Pierre-Paul, one of Haiti's leading journalists and a fierce feminist, as well as an old friend. She's been spending her days and nights camping out in the concrete courtyard of her second home, Radio Kiskeya. The building that houses one of Haiti's most popular community radio stations was damaged, I was informed, and the studio where Liliane has resumed broadcasting is not safe. Her team is looking for a new space, but in the meantime, there's an urgency to speak out, to give voice to ordinary Haitians who lost their public forum—community radio—during the first week of the quake. That includes women, who, Liliane confirms, have been tremendous in responding to the quake and the myriad challenges that have followed—ordinary women, market women, elite housewives, grandmothers, and girls—displaying remarkable courage and solidarity.
A dynamic woman with a warm manner, Liliane meets me in the small reception area of the radio station, glancing up from time to time at the ceiling, watching, I assume, for signs of weakness. She's wearing a knitted Rasta-looking cap—from Ethiopia, she tells me—and a white shawl with casual trousers. Despite years of intense living and speaking out against successive Haitian dictators and strongmen, she remains youthful looking and clearly battle-ready, even if weary and grieving for lost colleagues and friends.
"From the minute the buildings fell," Liliane informs me, "women were there and everywhere. They were leading the way into buildings; leading stunned children into safety; tending to the wounded; screaming and demanding help; speaking to the foreign media and CNN; setting up instant street kitchens and camps; singing, witnessing, praying.”
“There's no doubt that the earthquake has had a massive impact on Haitian women," Liliane confirms, "in ways that we as feminists and women leaders have yet to really take in—we haven't been able to analyze this. It's just survival now. We're so busy trying to cope right this minute, to just get through this day. But we know... I know... it's huge."
I ask her about Myriam Merlet and other well-known women leaders who were killed in the earthquake. She shakes her head, extends her fingers widely and fans her arms to indicate a large space. . . .