Many widowed women are now the main breadwinners for their families following the devastating January earthquake. CWS partners in ACT Alliance are addressing women’s needs as this special report for International Women’s Day shows.
Port-au-Prince, Haiti 8. March: The issue of Women’s Day in Haiti is to take care of family members. The issue for ACT Alliance is to listen to women’s needs.. ACT Alliance General Secretary John Nduna visits Haiti this week, and protection of women is one of the most important issues he will consider during his trip.
“In trying to address the issues affecting women in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake, we as humanitarians should talk and listen to what the women say are their needs. Many times, we think we know what their needs are and this is wrong. The women themselves know their greatest needs and we should work towards ensuring that those needs are met,” Mr. Nduna says. One way to spotlight the status of women on 8 March is to look at recovery efforts underway in earthquake-stricken Haiti.
To take care of the family
To women like Saint Elene Alcidonis, 52, newly widowed and the mother of seven children, ages 10 to 24, the immediate issue is how to take care of families in crowded displacement camps. Alcidonis’ case is typical of many people in the camps: Alcidonis’ late husband, Jean-Claude Bien-Aime, 53, a mason and carpenter who perished in the quake, was the principle breadwinner in the family.
Without homes to return to and with the loss of spouses, many do not know what the long-term or even immediate future holds. “It could be months, I don’t know what to expect,” Alcidonis told ACT communicator Chris Herlinger recently as she prepared morning coffee in one of the many displacement camps in Port-au-Prince – camps. “There are so many to take care of.”
Job no 1: To survive
Alcidonis’ short-term concern is survival – she is going to have to care for her family. In the long-term, humanitarian response like that being provided by ACT Alliance needs to be based on resources that will help her and other women gain the skills and support necessary to do so.
Of course, there are immediate pressures being felt by female survivors of the quake. Women, as well as children, face particular risks because of security fears – worries that displacement camps are risky places because of the growing number of sexual assaults.
To be women’s advocates
Given those concerns, humanitarian responders – like the ACT Alliance working in Haiti – must be vigilant and act as advocates for women and children in an increasingly insecure environment, said Anna Olivier, an ACT humanitarian worker. Women and children, she said, are particularly vulnerable and as a result require services especially keyed to their needs.
Current ACT efforts in Haiti include programs to assist female-headed households, building on already-existing programs, such as those by Viva Rio, a Brazilian organization which works in Greater Bel Air, a particularly violent section of Port-au-Prince.
Viva Rio has made the issue of the security of women a focus of its work; as one example, prior to the quake, it was part of a consortium of organizations that successfully advocated for establishing a police station in Bel Air that responds to sexual assault and domestic violence cases.
Another ACT partner is Mouvement des Femmes de Cité Soleil, known by the acronym MOFECS, a grassroots group that provides psychosocial support for women and girls, as well as organizing girls’ clubs and seminars and trainings for females.
Sexual violence increase
Rose-Anne Auguste, a Haitian who heads the ACT-supported Association for the Promotion of Integral Family Healthcare, said the work focused on women is necessary, particularly given current conditions in Haiti. “Yes, we are concerned about the rise of sexual violence,” Auguste told Herlinger, though noting that the APROSIFA had treated female rape survivors long before the quake.
Unfortunately, violence is a part of any post-disaster landscape. “People are traumatized and we know how people react in these type of situations,” said Sylvia Raulo, one of those coordinating ACT relief efforts in Haiti.
Raulo’s work and the work of Haitian and non-Haitian female humanitarian workers in Haiti is another way of spotlighting the contribution of women — especially when media images so often convey the idea that humanitarian work is performed by men.
ACT Alliance 8/3/2010