The earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12 was devastating. As with most crises, women and girls were among both the most vulnerable and the most overlooked. Within the first week, reports of sexual violence emerged, as did stories of women and girls struggling to access assistance and living in crowded and unsafe camps.
The location of the disaster in a major urban capital in a country with a recent history of social and political upheaval, as well as poorly functioning institutions, presented the humanitarian community with the challenge of responding to a multi-layered emergency of almost unprecedented scale and complexity. Yet while many aspects of this disaster were unique, much of the failure to appropriately respond to the protection concerns of women and girls resulted from known, chronic weaknesses in the system of emergency response.
Though gains have been made in raising the profile of gender issues in recent years, humanitarian actors still struggle to change the way that they coordinate, design, deliver and monitor assistance to ensure that women and girls are not rendered more vulnerable in the process. The humanitarian community continues to see women’s protection as a second-tier concern in crises, particularly natural disasters, and is slow to address gender-based violence (GBV) at the onset of an emergency.
This paper examines some of the successes and failures of the response to the protection concerns of women and girls following the Haiti earthquake and offers recommendations for action. While natural disasters increase risks for women and girls, violence, abuse and exploitation are not inevitable in such crises. By investing in early and robust action, women and girls can be made safer, violence prevented, and a solid foundation built for women’s and girls’ empowerment post-crisis.
Summary by Elizabeth Bellardo
Read the Policy Paper here