Women's Human Rights Are Key to Successful Reconstruction in Haiti

In the traumatic weeks after the earthquake that struck Haiti on
January 12, survivors have endured the loss of loved ones, severe
injuries, shortages of food and water, collapsed homes and constant
fear of renewed aftershocks. Through it all, we have witnessed the
dignity and resilience of the Haitian people and the solidarity of
women's rights activists throughout the region and the world. Haitians
have dug neighbors out of collapsed buildings, cared for orphaned
children and shared dwindling food supplies. A network of women's
organizations-in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the broader Latin
American and Caribbean region and around the world-have come together
with MADRE to provide urgent medical aid and reproductive healthcare,
document human rights abuses and give Haitian women the means to raise
their voices.

Today, as disaster response shifts from the
search-and-rescue phase to rebuilding and reconstruction, Haiti is at a
crossroad. It could recreate the status quo ante of economic misery,
predatory government and widespread human rights abuses; or rebuild in
ways that promote human rights and true development, including
much-needed resiliency to disaster.

Realizing the latter
vision will require the effective participation of Haitian women in the
rebuilding process. In a society devastated by disaster, the
opportunity to participate in relief and reconstruction efforts is a
means to empowerment through access to jobs, resources and
skills-training. Participation in the reconstruction process must
therefore include Haitian community-based and women's organizations,
which represent the majority of the population, those most deeply
impacted by the disaster and those who have been historically excluded
from decision-making in Haiti.

Right now, there is a window of
opportunity to ensure that Haiti's reconstruction process upholds the
full range of women's human rights and uses gender awareness as a
starting point for successful recovery efforts. Nothing less than the
future of Haiti is at stake.

Women's Organizations Must Play Leadership Roles

such a disaster, women are confronted with many challenges. They face
an increased risk of sexual abuse and violence, particularly at the
hands of an intimate partner. They lose essential access to
reproductive healthcare services. They may be denied property rights to
rebuilt homes. They may be passed over in aid distributions that target
male heads-of-household. Haitian women's organizations are uniquely
positioned to recognize and respond to these threats, which may go
unnoticed if a so-called "gender-neutral" approach is adopted for
humanitarian aid and reconstruction.

Reconstruction efforts that
operate in partnership with community-based women's organizations can
mobilize Haitian women's expertise-as first-responders, caregivers,
farmers, teachers, healthcare providers, income-earners and human
rights defenders-in the service of broader efforts to rebuild
communities. Women can and must play leadership roles, drawing from
their knowledge of environmental resources to support agriculture or
tapping into informal but vibrant social networks to efficiently direct
needed support to the most vulnerable, including children and the

For decades, MADRE has worked with local
women's organizations in Haiti and worldwide, partnering with them to
meet urgent community needs in ways that advance human rights and
social justice for the long-term. This is the model for successful
reconstruction in Haiti today.

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