Se Ra, Se Ta!– Later is too late” was the resounding cry of people in Haiti on November 25, 2011, in the various actions held in honor of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This affirmation also acknowledged that in the aftermath of the January 12, 2010 earthquake, the devastating effects of other forms of violence, such as crime, disease, economic and structural violence have been equally traumatic to the people of Haiti.
The risk of violence and sexual exploitation of women and girls increases in times of crisis, particularly during the displacement of people and entire communities. Various reports have described high rates of sexual violence in Haiti’s displacement camps and even the exchange of sex for food.
Yet violence against Haitian women is not a new phenomenon, as they have always faced more structural barriers than men. Grassroots International’s partner, the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (POHDH), notes, “Discrimination towards women was, and still is, widespread and tolerated in Haitian society, because the [erroneous] concept of women’s inferiority and their mandatory subordination is so deeply rooted in theculture.”
In a 2012 report: “Haiti : The Situation of Human Rights of Women and Girls Two Years After the Earthquake,” POHDH advocates for increasing awareness programs on violence against women, as well as ensuring that the Haitian National Police encourages women and girls to report acts of sexual violence in a climate of security while ensuring that all complaints are registered and investigated promptly, impartially, and effectively. But it’s no wonder why many women are discouraged by the current legal frameworks, when even the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has failed to keep women safe. Contrary to their 2004 mandate to guarantee peace, security, and to establish the rule of law, numerous UN peacekeepers in Haiti have been implicated in allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse.
In recognition of the fundamental role of women in influencing political and social change, Grassroots International collaborated with the Fund for Sustainable Alternatives to support several projects in Haiti that focused on the struggle for women’s rights and participation.
In conjunction with the November 25th actions, the Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development (PAPDA) participated in a peaceful march and organized several activities to strengthen the presence of gender issues in Haitian society. Participatory surveys of women were conducted in Cape-Rouge to compile grievances, which were later featured on community radio station broadcasts about gender-based violence, a joint project with the Society forAnimation and Social Communication (SAKS).
As sexual violence existed well before January 12, 2010, the Force for Reflection and Action on Housing (FRAKKA) asserts, so did the housing problem. In the camps, numerous cases of gender-based violence go unreported due to lack of security, police forces, and legal frameworks to assist the victims. But current political instability is only partially to blame, as the underlying trivialization of violence against women in Haitian society, especially in regards to marital rape, has meant that such cases are rarely reported due to fear of stigmatization or retaliation. Established in 2010, FRAKKA conducts monthly meetings and legal trainings with camp committees and grassroots organizations, provides material support to women who have survived violence in the camps, and organizes advocacy and outreach activities to inform the public about the reality of the camps and the housing situation in Haiti.
Due to the lack of social services and access to education, women in rural areas are arguably the most vulnerable to structural and personal violence. According to the National Confederation of Peasant Women (KONAFAP), “Peasant women are twice victimized by a macho society that does not want to liberate peasant women who are [already] completely excluded.” Formed in 2008 by women from the 56 member organizations of the Haitian National Network for Food Sovereignty and Security, KONAFAP is the only national women’s peasant committee in Haiti.
“It’s a great challenge to overcome the patriarchal attitudes one finds in families, which does not favor the evolution of women out of the home,” says the Women’s Movement of Acul-du-Nord (MOFA). Founded in 1992, MOFA is the only women’s peasant group in the Acul-du-Nord region of Haiti and provides trainings through women’s groups to promote awareness of women’s rights, supports economic independence of peasant women through small business and farming, and advocates for social services in rural areas.
While there have been considerable advances toward the elimination of violence against women, the struggle is still ongoing. As POHDH notes, rape was not even considered a crime against the victim in Haiti until 2005. In their continuing efforts for the protection of women’s rights, these Haitian organizations are doing exactly as the campaign suggests: “Wè, Koute, Pale, Aji– See, hear, speak, act.”