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Additional Coverage Special Report—Haiti

Haiti

This story is just one article in our special report on Haiti's women's movement.

We'll be adding more stories in the coming weeks—for now, take a look at other articles in this series.

• Internationally acclaimed author and memoirist Edwidge Danticat on her homeland, post disaster.

• View photographer Nadia Todres's powerful photo essay, Documenting the Lives of Girls in Haiti.

• Read Didi Bertrand's column, Bearing Witness: Girls and Women in Haiti's Camps.

• Take a look at SPECIAL REPORT: Haiti Elections—Why Vote for a Woman? to read interviews with Haiti's three female presidential candidates to learn more about their platforms.

• Read the first story in this series, SPECIAL REPORT: Haiti, Women, and the Elections, which takes an in-depth look at women on the ground and the upcoming elections.

• Read World Pulse and Anne-christine d'Adesky's previous coverage on the earthquake, Holding Up Haiti: Women Respond to Nightmare Earthquake, published shortly after news broke of the devastating earthquake.

Haiti: Honoring the Ancestors

Haiti’s Women’s Movement Slowly Recovers

"Haitian women carry the burden of the country on their heads."

Michaelle Jean | General Governor of Canada

© Cameron Davidson

Port-au-Prince, Haiti: It’s September, nearly nine months after the massive January 12 earthquake that leveled the capital in a 30-second spasm, irrevocably altering Haiti’s present and future.

It’s post-twilight, and still hours before the dawn breaks, but the end-of-summer heat is stifling. The ever-present threat of rain marks the midpoint of the annual rainy season, and the first hurricanes have already spawned in the ocean, only to blow away elsewhere.

Across the darkened tent settlements that have turned Haiti’s biggest cities into giant homeless camps, underneath the open-air tarps that fail to ward off either mosquitoes or rain or rats, Haiti’s mothers remain awake but exhausted, ever vigilant for unwelcome noises. The nightly gang rapes they fear have become a daily headline and a pointed condemnation of the Haitian government’s failure to protect its quake-displaced female citizens from brutal sexual crimes.

Despite increased policing and the presence of UN security, life for Haitian women remains dangerous, cramped, and fetid.

And yet, some things are getting better.

Back in the tent city, to the women’s relief, the movement they detect in the night comes not from attackers, but from a patrolling brigade ready to escort women and girls to the latrines and bathing areas, where rapes commonly take place. Some women have secured not only whistles and underwear, but hygiene “dignity kits”—with soap and feminine products—from donor groups. Others carry UNIFEM’s new GBV contact card under the straps of their brassieres, rubber-banded alongside new citizen identity cards to replace those lost under the rubble: the proof they’ll need to vote in the upcoming November elections.

Counselors and nurses regularly stop by the camps to offer suggestions to help overcome the myriad hurdles to daily survival: access to clean water, food aid, or cooking fuel; prosthetics for the newly amputated; adequate shelter; job opportunities; education for the many displaced children.

This is the slowly recovering, steadily emerging face of Haiti’s women’s movement—a still-fractured, still-overwhelmed, but strong and vocal force for the post-disaster nation.

Like the rest of the country, Haiti’s women leaders have had to cope with major personal and organizational losses. They have been shocked, and they have acted, like everyone else, both quickly and with courage, and also too slowly, overwhelmed by the scale of what has been destroyed and must be rebuilt or simply can never be recovered.

“We must move on,” said Carole Pierre-Paul, the new director of SOFA, or Solidarity with Haitian Women, in the days after the earthquake. “We do not have the luxury of taking the time to think too much.”

Haiti’s women leaders agree that the situation is still too urgent to step away from providing the essentials—food, water, shelter, jobs—but the approach is shifting away from direct relief work, and more toward empowering women and the displaced to demand their rights. That includes the right to fully participate in the post-disaster nation building that is underway. . . .

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