The text below is a shortened version of a statement I recently delivered before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
We know that in the wake of disaster, women generally have less access to resources and are excluded from decision-making processes. This discrimination makes women and girls more vulnerable to the impact of disasters, including the specific conditions that give rise to sexual violence. Women and girls are also put at increased risk of rape by the collapse of social infrastructures, the erosion of family and community networks, inequitable access to social services, absence of law and order, lack of secure housing and dependence resulting from dislocation. All of these conditions have been rife since the earthquake in Haiti, creating a perfect storm of sexual violence that has spread across the displacement camps.
What is less knows is that in the face of these obstacles, grassroots women groups operating within displacement camps are mobilizing and developing innovative strategies to improve the lives and conditions of all Haitians. However, these groups are not being included in disaster preparedness plans and post-disaster needs assessments or in the planning of activities designed to mitigate gender-based violence. This exclusion has had a direct and profound impact on at-risk population and has also led to the misdirection of aid.
Because of this, as early as October, attorneys and grassroots groups submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The petition called on both the government of Haiti and international actors to take immediate action to:
- Ensure adequate and accessible medical and psychological care;
- Implement effective security measures;
- Ensure appropriate and adequate response to complaints of gender based violence;
- Investigate and prosecute instances of violence against women;
- Ensure meaningful participation of grassroots women's groups in leadership and planning of policies to combat and prevent violence.
On December 22nd, the Commission issued a decision in favor of the petitioners, highlighting the importance of respecting international human rights obligations, as well as the rights of the most vulnerable populations.
Haiti’s transition from disaster creates a unique opportunity to adopt strategies and policies for the establishment of the rule of law and the promotion of gender equality and gender justice. Moving forward, women’s participation and the inclusion of a gender perspective are essential to developing a sustainable and effective reconstruction process.
In addition, policies and practices of the U.S. and other donor states should help build the capacity and support the sovereignty of the Government of Haiti and the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission. To do so, international actors need to release the money pledged for Haiti, foster sustainable relationships between the Haitian government, UN agencies, and Haitian NGOs, and produce plans of action for ending gender-based violence.