In post-hurricane Haiti, women work together to rebuild

Date: Thursday, November 3, 2016

  • One month since Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti, 1.4 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, risk of gender-based violence and transactional sex is high
  • UN Women is setting up cash-for-work programme for women and safe spaces where women can get psychosocial support, skills training and more

It’s been a month since Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti, taking the lives of hundreds of people in the South, Grand’Anse and Nippes departments ( districts) and leaving more than 1.4 million in need of humanitarian assistance, but the women and girls in the most affected areas remember it as if it was yesterday.

“The roof of the house just flew away. There was so much rain and so much wind that I couldn’t stay there,” says Bethie Bolivard from Jérémie, in the Grand’Anse department, who has lost much more than a safe haven. “I went to the street and next to me there was my cousin, standing. Then the sea came and took her away…she disappeared,” she adds.

Women washing clothes following Hurricane Matthew in Haiti. Photo: UN/MINUSTAH/Logan Abassi
Women washing clothes following Hurricane Matthew in Haiti. Photo: UN/MINUSTAH/Logan Abassi

For several days, large parts of the communities wandered homeless, without food, electricity, or a way to communicate with their loved ones. Even the families with more means were suffering. “Before the hurricane, I lived in a concrete house, but the windows and the door were torn apart when the hurricane hit. I was at home with my children at the time and I was afraid for them, but also for me,” recalls Marie Carmelle Charlotin, a nurse working at the Health Department of Grand'Anse. Today they are living in temporary shelters set up by local organizations.

Velyne Germain, a student of Information Sciences in the University of Jérémie, adds: “I was very advanced in my course, but now I have lost all my documents, my papers and my work, because my house was destroyed. Now I am also missing school because the university has closed down.”

The situation is grim, yet, many women are taking an active role to help others. As Floraine Louise, a volunteer for the Haitian Civil Protection service says: “I decided to go out and try to help to the extent possible. I joined the local authorities and participated in the distribution of assistance, such as the provision of blankets and temporary shelters. I also helped to unblock the roads, removing the trees and debris, working with the firefighters.”

As is common in many other crisis settings, women and girls were the most affected by Hurricane Matthew. In the aftermath, although women often single-handedly shoulder the caregiving responsibilities for the family and survivors, they are rarely consulted in humanitarian response and consequently, their needs and priorities are not met.

The road to recovery for Haiti is likely to be long. “The hurricane has changed it all, it has even changed our mentality,” says Germain. “Today, there are people who wouldn’t realize what day we’re in, or even the month or the year. We are in a situation where we don’t have anything to do during the day, and that makes us vulnerable”.

Women affected by  Hurricane Matthew in Haiti come together in safe and social women's spaces. Photo: UN Women/Maria Sanchez
Women in Haiti participate in a training session in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, to enhance the capacity of local women’s organizations and to inform affected women about their rights. Photo: UN Women/Maria Sanchez

Bolivard, Charlotin and Germain, along with about 40 other women and girls, recently participated in a training session organized by UN Women in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, to enhance the capacity of local women’s organizations and to inform affected women about their rights. The trainings, that took place in Les Cayes and Jérémie last week, also served as a platform to learn more about the specific needs of women and will help tailor UN Women’s assistance and disaster response in Haiti.

“This training was very useful because very often women are not aware of their rights and they are fooled into situations out of desperation,” explains Marie Carmelle. “Now, they will be capable of making the right choices and will have a better understanding of what they should not put up with.”

One of the concerns that women have is the risk of transactional sex, a phenomenon that was widespread within the camps in Port-au-Prince after the 2010 earthquake. “After the hurricane, I was listening to a documentary in the radio and I heard a woman say that if she found a man who’d give her some money, she would do anything he asks,” shares Marie Midrenne Appolon, for whom the solution clearly needs to be different. “I do not agree with that; you can never know if he’s a good person. I would advise her to go look for help, to the town hall, or to the organizations instead.”

One of the measures UN Women will undertake, working closely with partners, is a cash-for-work-programme that will help put the most vulnerable women on the path to economic recovery. “In many cases, if women were employed, they would not have to sell themselves. But, it is not just about giving them a job; there also needs to be a lot of awareness raising about women’s rights,” Midrenne adds.

Women come together in a "Women's Space" in Grand'Anse. Photo: UN Women/Maria Sanchez
Participants in a UN Women training to inform women affected by Hurricane Matthew of their rights. Photo: UN Women/Maria Sanchez

For this purpose, UN Women’s response in Haiti will also include the establishment of safe and social “Women’s Spaces” in the affected areas, beginning with the Grand’Anse Department. “These spaces are expected to bring together a package of targeted services, including access to psycho-social support for survivors of gender-based violence and information on women’s rights, recreational activities, as well as skills training such as small business management,” explains Jean-Noel Melotte, one of the UN Women trainers and a cash-for-work specialist.

The safe and social spaces will accommodate 15, 000 while the cash-for-work programmes will initially cater to 2,000 women, and be gradually scaled up as they receive more funding.

To support UN Women’s humanitarian effort in Haiti, donate here.

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