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Global Feminism in the News: Haiti

February 1, 2010

Global Feminism in the News is a monthly column discussing recurring themes in international news stories concerning women. This month we will focus on Haiti.

Collapsed building in Port-au-Prince (Photo courtesy of Tiffany Kuehner)

Nothing has so grabbed the world’s attention this month like the deadly earthquake in Haiti. Doubtless you have read many news stories about the catastrophe. With this article I hope to gather some of the most informative articles as well as those that focus on the women of Haiti. As always, if you have read a related article that I missed, please post a link in the comments section.

Initial news stories started to filter in after a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti on January 12. The destruction was immeasurable and the death toll climbed steadily with each new story. Even those with no previous connection to Haiti could viscerally feel the horror, fear and disbelief of those living there.

As Haitians fled the capitol for the countryside, amputees, trapped survivors and corpses remained in Port-au-Prince with aid workers and soldiers. A second earthquake aftershock on January 20 destroyed most of the few things left standing after the original earthquake and caused even more injuries and deaths. Three days later, the Haitian government declared the end of rescue operations after clearing over 150,000 bodies from the streets. The families of the missing, however, are not so quick to give up. Miraculously, a man was discovered alive on January 24th.

Although the outpouring of financial support has been heartening, doubts, criticism and hesitation has also crept in. Nicholas Kristof tried to post a Haiti 101 to address some critical comments readers had posted on his blog. (Ex: “Giving money to Haiti and other third-world countries is like throwing money in the toilet.”) International donors, doubting the government’s ability to adequately handle funds, met in Montreal to develop a 10 year rebuilding plan. Celebrities have made quite a show of donating large amounts of money, but for those of us with less than $1 million in disposable income, there is still a great difference to be made with small donations. Here is a list of organizations that help women and girls.

Sisters Lovely, 8, and Mariefleur, 7

Sisters Lovely, 8, and Mariefleur, 7 (Photo courtesy of Deborah Sontag at the New York Times)

The feminist community mourned the deaths of activists Myriam Merlet, (Chief of Cabinet of the Ministry of Women’s Condition and Rights and founder of National Coordination for Advocacy on Women’s Rights) Myrna Narcisse (Director General of the Ministry of Women’s Condition), Magalie Marcelin (Founder of Kay Fanm (Women’s House)) and Anne Marie Coriolan (founding member of one of Haiti’s largest women’s groups, Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn (SOFA)). In honor of Ms. Merlet, a feminist solidarity camp will be opened on the Haitian/ Dominican border in the near future. (Hear Eve Ensler speak about Myriam here.)

Haitian author Edwidge Danticat and Haitian-American ED of Equality Now Taina Bien-Aime both gave wrote eloquent and heart breaking accounts of their personal losses. Ms. Bien-Aime also worried about the welfare of Haiti’s women where Kay Fanm estimates that 72% of Haitian girls surveyed have been raped. The estimated 63,000 pregnant women in the capitol are at extra risk as medical facilities and personnel are stretched to capacity. As in other areas of the world with high poverty rates and loose government infrastructure sex trafficking is a huge risk for young girls, especially those left orphaned and homeless by the earthquake.

As with the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, news interest has already begun to wane, and with it so too will relief efforts. In the face of such a tragedy, I sometimes feel immobilized by the inability to fix things on a large scale. There are many ways that each of us individually can help Haiti.

1. Listen to Haitians: Let us not forget that this is a tragedy that happened to people. People who were already working to change their country, people with goals, people with voices. There are many accounts written by people who were present during the earthquake or who worked, before the earthquake, in Haiti. One of the most moving accounts I read was this one.

2. Donate responsibly: If you have money to donate, please research organizations before giving. Look for a Charity Navigator rating or research the history and budget of an organization. As Jessica eloquently stated, our interests should not be the deciding factor for donations, but rather the needs of the Haitian people.

3.  Educate yourself: Haiti is a country that steals people’s hearts. Those I know who have lived and/or worked there always carry the country with them when they leave. Find out more about the history, culture, language, art, feminist movement, etc.

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