International Women’s Day: an Outlook on Haiti

Over 1.3 million people live in makeshift shelters on the once buzzing streets of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince and its environs. Those who survived the 12 January earthquake are now faced with the daunting task of rebuilding their lives out of the ruins of a city already stricken by poverty. For Haitian women, this is proving even more difficult because of their additional family responsibilities.

ACTED, an NGO installing water bladders in IDP camps, fills four bladders set up in Tapis Rouge, a slum area high in the mountains in the Port-au-Prince neighbourhood of Carrefour Feuille - © UN Photo/Sophia ParisThe UN, the Haitian Government, non-governmental organisations and local women’s organizations are jointly working to respond to the urgent and long-term protection needs of women. Access to adequate housing, justice, education, and reproductive health care services are some of these organizations’ priorities.

Despite the difficulties, Haitian women have been playing an important role in organizing communities in the aftermath of the earthquake. Although their participation in local camp management committees remains weak, they are actively involved in organizing and structuring the functioning of camps and settlements, including registering the displaced living there.

After the earthquake, women's groups have been reestablished. They have strengthened their networks in order to increase their capacity in the reconstruction efforts, reaching out to communities and mobilizing additional women to contribute to the rebuilding process at a local level.

Another major focus for the Haitian women’s groups is sexual and gender based violence. While this is not a new issue in Haiti, in the aftermath of the earthquake it has become a major concern for displaced women and children living in settlements. Lack of lighting and of private space exposes them to increased risks.

The women’s groups have played a crucial role in informing local communities about available services and referral mechanisms in case of sexual abuse and violence. Having access to information is an essential element for the protection of women and for increasing their resilience to any kind of abuse.

The strength and dedication of Haiti’s women to contributing to the reconstruction of their country is remarkable and they have not been discouraged by the difficulties they face.

Sophonie, 22, represents the resilience of these women. She has been living in a camp in Delmas with her parents and six siblings since the earthquake. Her father is unemployed and her mother is supporting her family thanks to petty jobs. Sophonie volunteers in a tent school where children of the neighboring camps come for class. When asked what the celebration of the International Women’s Day meant to her she said: “Men and women have to stand together as equals for a better life for Haitians”.

On 8 March, the world will mark International Women's Day. This year's theme is «Equal Rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all », which complements the OHCHR's special focus in 2010 on non-discrimination. Haiti lost three of its most renowned women’s rights leaders to the earthquake. Anne Marie Coriolan, Magalie Marcelin and Myriam Merlet will remain an inspiration for survivors.

View the High Commissioner's statement: