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At a glance: Haiti

Podcast #30: Building hope for adolescent girls in post-earthquake Haiti

'Beyond School Books' - a podcast series on education in emergencies

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1206/LeMoyne
A girl smiles during class in a tent at Celie-Lilavois Primary School in Port-au-Princel, Haiti.

By Anna Azaryeva

NEW YORK, USA, 20 October 2010 – As schools open for the new academic year in Haiti, the hope is to bring all boys and girls to school – both those who attended before the earthquake struck in January and those hardest to reach, who will go to school for the first time.

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Providing girls and boys with a safe and nurturing educational environment is a priority in Haiti. Some 1.3 million Haitians are still displaced 10 months after the earthquake, and adolescent girls remain one of the most disadvantaged groups. Factors including disparities, poverty and structural challenges put Haitian girls and young women at risk before the earthquake, and now, living in displacement camps, they are particularly vulnerable to sexual and other forms of violence.

Girls at risk

“The situation for adolescent girls in Haiti has been increasingly difficult,” said UNICEF Gender-Based Violence Specialist in Haiti Michelle Trombley, who is leading the organization’s response to violence against women and girls in Haiti. “Schools have just started. For a lot of children, this is going to be the first time back in an actual building structure since the earthquake, so there are many different levels of stress that are facing girls.”

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1282/Ramoneda
Nine-year-old Rachel [name changed] was kidnapped near the tent camp where she was living with her sisters after the earthquake.

Judith Bruce, Senior Associate and Policy Analyst with the Population Council’s Poverty, Gender, and Youth programme, agreed. “The work we have done is showing that most youth programmes, in fact, are dominated by older males.” She added that this can feel threatening to female students. “Very early on, girls start dropping out and the least empowered girls just do not show up,” she said.

“There is nowhere to hide in the camps,” said Ms. Trombley. “There is really no space that girls have to find safety and security or to even talk about issues that they have going on.”

Dedicated spaces for girls

To empower and protect Haitian girls, the Population Council and the disaster relief and humanitarian medical aid organization AmeriCares co-founded the Haiti Adolescent Girls Network. This coalition of humanitarian organizations aims to reduce girls' risks of poverty, violence, and rape by supporting the creation of dedicated safe spaces for adolescent girls. 

“Girls need a space where they can go to regularly and reliably, at least weekly, at least for two hours, where they can be themselves – essentially a place where they can talk about their concerns and the stress they are under,” said Ms. Bruce. “The specific theory, with good evidence now, is that girls who have strong friendship networks are much better protected.”

The start of a school year presents new challenges concerning girls’ safety at school, but also new avenues to empower girls.

“There are a lot of opportunities to be working within schools, to be working with girls and with boys as well to raise their awareness about the issues and to be working with them more from the prevention point of view,” said Ms. Trombley.

For adolescent girls, having additional community-based opportunities is especially important. “When you have girls’ spaces, you can move directly into basic literacy – which is often what’s missing,” said Ms. Bruce. “I think there’s a lot we can do with single-sexed opportunities, and a lot we can do from community-based programmes,” she added.




Podcast moderator Amy Costello spoke with Judith Bruce from the Population Council and Michelle Trombley, UNICEF Haiti, about the situation for adolescent girls in Haiti, both in camps and at school.
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