Earthquake in Haiti: Time for Seismic and Systemic Change

January 15, 2010 posted by Linda Basch

As reports filter in from Haiti in the aftermath of Wednesday's catastrophic earthquake, it is difficult to process the sheer immensity of this tragedy. My thoughts go to the tens of thousands of grieving and displaced who are struggling with unimaginable loss. I am also thinking about the hundreds, maybe thousands of colleagues, advocates and humanitarian workers who have sacrificed their lives while trying to rebuild a nation ravaged by hurricane, poverty and continuing mismanagement. The UN mission in Port au Prince is still missing more than 100 staff members and countless schools, clinics and businesses have been destroyed.

I won't go into the long and turbulent history of Haiti's past: revolt against slavery, independence, colonialism, dictatorship, fragile democracy and the US's troubling role in this tested nation's myriad challenges.

But the dimensions of this catastrophe have roots in the past that need to be addressed. The overwhelming size of the destruction, however, should not paralyze us into inaction, or worse, indifference.

We need a vigorous national and international response, and there are hopeful signs that this has begun, including reactions and initiatives from so many in our network: experts, analysts and advocates on the ground.

As we focus squarely on the relief effort, we need to take into account the gender dimension. As terrible as the situation is for all Haitians, women and girls face the additional burdens of trauma that will complicate pregnancy, motherhood and the nursing of children, as well as vulnerability to rape and sexual assault, not to mention needs related to personal hygiene and privacy that are often missing from relief work.

Time is of the essence. For every minute or hour wasted, another life is lost, another future brought to a tragic and premature close.

Like you, I will be doing whatever I can to help, whether writing a check, a Letter to the Editor, or contributing in small ways to the outpouring of solidarity.

I'm sending you some initial news and reactions from within and beyond our network and hope you will join us in this collective drive for emergency aid.

However, the earthquake also reminds us of the seismic changes that are needed once the dust settles, to overcome our shortcomings as a society and world community. Just like the tectonic plates underground, we need to shift our priorities and build a more secure, equitable and sustainable future.

Responding to the Earthquake in Haiti: Ensuring Women and Children are Not Forgotten

UNIFEM has pledged to bring a gender-lens to the humanitarian response to the earthquake. In a statement released yesterday, UNIFEM Executive Director Ines Alberdi said, "UNIFEM is committed along with its partners and the UN system to working to ensure that attention is given to addressing these differential impacts and in particular for ensuring the personal security of women and girls. UNIFEM with the Government of Haiti and the UN system will adopt a gender-responsive and human rights based approach |in its efforts and actions to be undertaken in the recovery and reconstruction efforts."

The Ms. Foundation for Women has issued recommendations to help guide people's giving, emphasizing the importance of funding community-based organizations, local organizations with a social-justice lens, and grassroots organizations with a gender lens. They also provide a list of groups organizing immediate and long-term responses to Haiti.

The Associated Junior Leagues International brought our attention to CARE's commitment to ensuring women and girls get the help they need. From CARE's website: "Help is urgently needed for the millions of people likely affected by the disaster, especially for the most vulnerable - women and girls...As in all disasters, the immediate needs will likely include clean water, shelter, food and medical aid. From CARE's experience in other emergencies, we know mothers with infants and pregnant women will need special supplies and health care."

In 2007, Eve Ensler and V-Day helped establish the first shelter for women survivors of violence in Haiti: the V-Day Haiti Sorority Safe House. As they work to reach the women of the Safe House, V-Day reminds us that "at this critical time, we cannot forget the women and girls of Haiti--women who already suffer some of the worst poverty and gender-based-violence in the world." They have initiated a V-Day Haiti Rescue Fund for the Safe House and community of women it serves.


Michele Wucker, Executive Director of the World Policy Institute and a Women's Media Center Progressive Women's Voices Alumn, provided her expertise on the Rachel Maddow Show.

The Global Fund for Women has set up a crisis fund "to enable long-term relief and rebuilding efforts led by Haitian women's rights activists, whose work will be even more critically needed in the aftermath of this natural calamity."

MADRE, which has worked in Haiti for many years, is collecting donations to ensure emergency supplies get to women and children.


For more on the history, challenges, and underlying factors affecting the country's inability to respond to this natural disaster as well as the essential need for quick international humanitarian need, click here, here, and here.

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