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At a glance: Haiti

Panellists discuss working together to prevent sexual violence in Haiti

Haiti earthquake: One-year report

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2628/LeMoyne
A girl stands in the yard of a UNICEF-assisted transit centre for children without parental care in Ganthier, a town near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She was sexually abused while in the care of a foster family.

Children in Haiti are still reeling from the impact of the 12 January 2010 earthquake. Here is one in a series of stories on the long road from relief to recovery, a year later.

By Tania McBride

NEW YORK, USA, 11 January 2011 – Maricia Jean was raped and thrown into jail. Her son was brutally murdered, but she never made it to his funeral. She lived in hiding, fearing for her life and that of her remaining family members. And yet she is alive and taking action.

Ms. Jean is the co-founder of a grassroots Haitian organization called FAVILEK (the Creole acronym for ‘Women Victims Stand Up’). Based in the capital, Port-au-Prince, the organization is composed of over 80 women advocating for justice on behalf of other women and girls who have been victims of gender-based violence, both before and since the earthquake in Haiti.

An end to impunity

A Thomson Reuters Foundation-sponsored event held in New York last night – entitled ‘Justice Denied: Sexual violence against women in Haiti’ – featured Ms. Jean on an expert panel organized to raise awareness about the issue and to seek an end to impunity.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1283/Ramoneda
A nine-year-old girl sits in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where she was kidnapped from a tent camp for families displaced by the earthquake and was subsequently raped and badly beaten.

The other panellists were Mendy Marsh, UNICEF Specialist on Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies; Yolette Mengual, head of cabinet at the Haitian Ministry for the Status of Women and Women’s Rights; Lisa Davis, Madre Human Rights Advocacy Director; and Jayne Fleming, pro bono counsel from the Reed Smith law firm and human rights activist in Haiti.

“In all emergencies, we know that gender-based violence is likely to increase due to a breakdown in social structures and protective systems,” said Ms. Marsh. “It is critical that we have a range of multiple responses and practical solutions, and that gender-based violence issues are integrated into the humanitarian response in all sectors at the very beginning of an emergency.”

‘Survivor-centred policies’

Practical solutions to prevent this kind of violence, such as providing solar-powered radios and lamps to vulnerable women and girls, have already been initiated in camps for the displaced in the Haitian earthquake zone. So has direct coordination on the issue with women’s groups and child-protection agencies.

UNICEF has also trained over 300 individuals on gender-based violence prevention – including police officers, caseworkers and judges, as well as humanitarian workers. During the panel discussion, however, Ms. Marsh cautioned that more must be done at grassroots level.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0376/Noorani
A girl sleeps on the ground outside her family’s makeshift shelter in the Parc Jean Marie Vincent settlement for earthquake victims in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where crowded and insecure conditions make children and women vulnerable to abductions and sexual violence.

“The community has to have confidence in services that are provided to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Communities themselves also need to know how to address and respond to violence. Creating survivor-centred policies is crucial, along with addressing the long-term root causes, such as social norms, if we are to prevent gender-based violence,” she said.

“Validating the voices of the victims is fundamental,” added Ms. Fleming. “This is not a situation that is unique to Haiti. There is no shelter, no voice for grassroots organizations.”

No quick fix

In the course of the discussion, Ms. Mengual stated that the Haitian Government can’t deal with these issues alone. Although the government criminalized rape in 2005, the problem of impunity still exists, Ms. Mengual said. She noted, as well, that financial support and a strengthened legal framework are essential to making Haitian women and girls safer.

Ms. Marsh asserted that ending gender-based violence in Haiti is not going to be a quick fix.

“We have to support the Women's Ministry,” she said. “We have to ensure the community has confidence in the services and educate people on how they access services. Institutions have to be survivor centred, and funds are needed to address gender-based violence issues.”



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