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Sexist Backlash Against Gender-Responsive Aid in Haiti Shows Some Men Really Don't Get It

News flash: In addition to food, water, shelter, and medical care, there are needs that are specific to women, particularly pregnant women and new mothers.
 
 
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In Haiti, as is always true in the aftermath of a major disaster, in addition to the urgent need for what we traditionally consider the pillars of immediate aid -- food, water, shelter, medical care -- 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.

According to the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA):

(W)omen of reproductive age face limitations in accessing pre-natal and post-natal care, as well as greater risk of vaginal infections, pregnancy complications including spontaneous abortion, unplanned pregnancy, and post-traumatic stress. An increase in violence against women was also recorded…

…(I)n natural disaster situations and in post-disaster recuperation, the cases of violence may increase. "Given the stress that this situation caused and the life in the refuges, men attacked women more frequently.

Additionally as the MIndanao Commission on Women and Mothers for Peace Movement points out:

women suffer most from the impact of climate change and natural disasters because of discrimination and poverty. The same happened to women victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami as documented in a report on "Gender and Climate Change."

Tracy Clark-Flory addresses these issues relative to providing aid in Haiti in a piece on Salon's Broadsheet:

It isn't just that women often require special care and resources post-disaster; human rights organizations say that they could also play a critical role in distributing much-needed aid. Women "are central actors in family and community life," says Enarson, and are more likely to know "who in the neighborhood most needs help -- where the single mothers, women with disabilities, widows and the poorest of the poor live." Diana Duarte, a spokesperson for MADRE, an international women's rights organization that has joined the relief effort, put it this way: "Women are often more integrated and more aware of the vulnerabilities of their communities."

Even beyond the initial emergency response, there lies a long road to recovery that holds other unique challenges for women and girls. They are "at increased risk of gender-based violence, especially domestic violence and rape but also forced marriage at earlier ages" due to their increased dependence on men for protection and support, says Enarson. After a disaster of this magnitude, there will also be scores of “newly disabled, widowed or homeless women" in need of help. MADRE’s Duarte points out that women’s generally higher "level of poverty negatively effects their ability to access resources to rebuild."

Clark-Flory also points to the work of the Gender and Disaster Network which calls for a gender-responsive approach to aid in Haiti and has a wealth of resources on the topic here.

Madre's Marie St. Cyr and Yifat Susskind offer this excellent view of what such an approach needs to look like in Haiti,

All Haitians are suffering right now. But, 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. Women are also overwhelmingly responsible for other vulnerable people, including infants, children, the elderly, and people who are ill or disabled.

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.

 
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