Women and Girls in the Aftermath of the Haitian Earthquake

March 8, 2010 — Heidi Lehmann, Head of the International Rescue Committee’s Gender-Based Violence Technical Unit and recently returned from Haiti, and Kathryn Striffolino, Amnesty International’s Associate Director for Latin America, joined us for a discussion on efforts to combat gender-based violence in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Kathryn Striffolino focused her talk on the state of violence against women and girls in Haiti prior to the earthquake. She not only discused violence committed as a political weapon by members of the military, paramilitary groups, and gangs, particularly in periods of instability,  but also the prevalence of domestic violence in Haitian society. Striffolino highlighted some of the progress made in combating gender-based violence in Haiti by both the growing women’s movement, but also real steps taken by the government of Haiti over the past 15 years.

Heidi Lehmann followed Striffolino by addressing the current situation in Haiti, after the earthquake and how it has had many real effects on the security of Haitian women and girls. She discussed some of the basic needs that have yet to be met, as well as the impact of food distribution programs on women, given the precarious security situation in many of the temporary camps. Additionally, the earthquake did have a severe impact on the women’s movement and the pre-existing referral networks, which provided more services to women than the government. Even with the flow of aid, there remains few health and psychological resources available for women who have been victims of violence. Lehmann concluded by outlining many of the areas that should be focus upon during the rebuilding of the Haitian society, especially in regards to the protection of women and their inclusion in the recovery process.

The question and answer portion of the discussion focused on ways to address violence against women and children in the upcoming “Donors Meeting” in New York and in Haitian aid packages authorized by Congress. Given the sheer number of aid groups in Haiti after the earthquake, including long-term development, missionary, and emergency response groups, coordination of the resources and aid was a significant concern to our speakers. The extremely fragile state of the Haitian government and its ability (or lack thereof) to build upon developments prior to the earthquake in the protection of women and combating violence against women was also a strong concern by many in the audience and panel. There are many societal obstacles to dealing with violence against women and girls in Haiti, and the earthquake has made the struggle to protect them even more difficult. However, the panel believed that this unfortunate catastrophe has created a window of opportunity to readdress women’s issues and security in Haiti and develop a strategy for their inclusion in the recovery process.

Security for a New Century is a nonpartisan briefing series for Congress. We meet regularly with U.S. and international policy professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security environment. All discussions are OFF-THE-RECORD. It is not an advocacy venue. For more information, please call Mark Yarnell at (202) 224-7560 or write to [email protected].

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