Space around MADRE's conference table was tightly packed but quiet a few weeks ago as staff, volunteers, and interns leaned in to hear our Haitian partner Eramithe Delva tell her story. Eramithe’s account detailed not only the epidemic of sexual violence against women and children across hundreds of Haitian refugee camps but also new avenues to safety now being carved out by women themselves – distributing whistles and flashlights to help women and girls deter rapists, organizing volunteer watch groups, guiding rape survivors to medical services and more.
Eramithe is one of the leaders of KOFAVIV, a MADRE partner and a grassroots organization that brings rape survivors together to share stories and resources and to demand justice and accountability. Before the earthquake, KOFAVIV ran a women’s clinic that offered essential services to rape survivors, but that was destroyed in the quake. With support from MADRE, KOFAVIV will soon open a new clinic and women’s shelter in Port-au-Prince at a central location away from the camps, providing health care, education, and safe living arrangements for displaced women.
Eramithe’s harrowing stories -- of women and children routinely attacked while walking unlit, isolated paths to distant bathroom facilities, of having to bathe in open view of men all around them, of attackers using single knife-strokes to enter the flimsy plastic tents where women sleep, of near-total lack of police presence -- showed a clear connection between the constant state of danger endured by women in the camps and the range of widely-available household objects that can empower them with significantly more security.
To that end, our Helping Hands program was able to send items specifically requested by KOFAVIV: whistles, flashlights, batteries, condoms, first aid supplies, toys, blankets, and clothing. We'll continue collecting these items during the coming months, working to put simple, practical tools in our Haitian sisters' hands.
At the same time, we are working to create more systemic solutions, including installing lights in the camps and instituting security patrols, and to demand that women’s human rights be recognized as a priority. But women in the camps cannot wait, and KOFAVIV’s efforts help to save lives today.