Haiti: Fighting gender-based violence in the post-quake environment

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Haiti camp women.jpg

Gender-based violence is a longstanding problem in Haiti. However, following the 2010 earthquake, the problem has worsened and the incidence of rape and sexual assault has risen dramatically. Grassroots women’s organisation reported 230 incidents of sexual violence in 15 camps in the two months following the quake. Doctors without borders reported 212 cases in the five months after the earthquake.[1]

The earthquake has left Haiti in a critical state, which is believed to be responsible for the rise in sexual violence. There are 1.3 million people internally displaced, living in camps with inadequate resources and access to basic services. Unpredictable weather patterns, the risk of the spread of disease, lack of law enforcement and political instability also reign.

Existing gender inequality and a lack of both faith in the justice system and knowledge in the health system means that many victims do not report incidents of sexual violence. This makes the collection of reliable data and figures difficult. What is sure, however, is that this issue is impeding reconstruction efforts.

International and Governmental Response

International humanitarian aid and action has been comprehensive and far-reaching since the earthquake. Nevertheless, recognition of the serious issue of gender-based violence was not immediate and there is still a lack of a well-coordinated, inclusive action plan bringing international, governmental and grassroots organisations together in the fight against sexual violence and for the safety of Haitian women and girls.

United Nations

The UN, although rather belatedly, has recognised the danger and gravity of the problem of gender-based violence in Haiti. Its agencies, alongside the Haitian National Police and soldiers from the peacekeeping mission MINUSTAH, are working to improve security by deploying units and patrols in camps. The UN “sub-cluster” group on gender-based violence has also launched a medical information campaign and lighting installation in camps.

Despite these efforts, there are conflicting reports on the adequacy of the work of the UN aid agencies. A failure to adequately include poor women in project planning as well as a lack of coordination with grassroots organisations have been evoked.[2]

The Haitian Government

Since sexual violence has been a pervasive problem in Haitian society for many years, the government has undertaken a number of initiatives to address the issue. Penalties have been increased and in 2003 the “Table de Concertation Nationale contre la Violence Faite aux Femmes” (National Dialogue on the Prevention of Violence against Women) was introduced involving the Ministries of Women, Health and Justice, civil society, NGOs, service providers and UN agencies. In 2006, the National Plan to Combat Violence was also adopted.[3] However, insufficient resources and implementation, followed by the earthquake and its aftermath, have left these initiatives defunct. UNFPA and UNICEF are currently working to reestablish them.[4]

Indeed, ever since the earthquake there has been little concrete response by the government relating to this issue. There seems to be both a lack of resources and a lack of will to tackle the problem.[5] The police force is inadequately equipped, with very few female officers. The presence of uniquely male officers can be seen to intimidate victims and prevent them from reporting. The UNPOL deployment of an all-female unit from Bangladesh was an improvement although the language barrier posed problems for local women.[6]

Despite the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, Haitian women are mostly excluded from full participation in the relief effort.

Grassroots Organisations

Local Haitian women’s organisations quickly mobilised to address the needs of the community after the earthquake. They are working to reduce sexual violence and establishing security for women and girls in camps and poor neighbourhoods. Despite some partnerships with national ministries, NGOs and international agencies, the coordination effort on this issue is poor. However, the proactive role of these women’s groups exemplifies the effective interventions that can be made when women are included in reconstruction efforts and could offer a model for international NGOs.[7] Haitian women’s grassroots organisations, such as KOFAVIV and FAVILEK, have been establishing and implementing their own security measures, for example, escorting women to bathrooms and showers at night.

KOFAVIV logo.jpg

KOFAVIV is an organisation founded by and for rape survivors in the poorest areas of Port-au-Prince.[8] Following the earthquake, the group quickly reconstructed their organisation in one of the camps. They now have over 1,000 members working in the camps, improving security and caring for and supporting victims. KOFAVIV provides escorts, lighting and security patrols, and has introduced a whistle alert system. In the Champ de Mars camp, KOFAVIV has reported a decrease in the incidence of rape.[9]

Their aims are to:

  • Provide a safe space for women to gather, support one another and get organized to meet their needs and rebuild their community networks.
  • Offer trainings for women on how to stay safe, manage stress, care for traumatized children and maintain family health and hygiene in the hazardous environment of the camps.
  • Facilitate psycho-social support through peer-counseling groups of rape survivors who empower one another to heal and rebuild their lives.[10]


FAVILEK is another grassroots women’s group from Port-au-Prince, which was formed in following the coup d’état in 1991 by women who were victims of sexual violence during the military dictatorship.

FAVILEK continues to fight for equality and justice for Haitian women and have increased their work since the earthquake. With limited resources they use the medium of theatre to promote their cause.[11] Their "Theatre for Action" scheme is used as a means to share their experiences as victims of gender and political violence. They perform their piece, “Ochan pou tout fanm yo bliye” (Tribute to all forgotten women) across the country.[12]

See also

UN Security Council Resolution 1325

Special Focus : 10th anniversary of UN resolution 1325 on Peace, Women and Security

Women, Peace and Security

Gender Equality in Haiti

Special Focus - Haiti's rape crisis



  1. Security After the Quake? Addressing Violence and Rape in Haiti, report by United States Institute of Peace, page 1, Jan 2011, available at USIP publications
  2. Security After the Quake? Addressing Violence and Rape in Haiti, report by United States Institute of Peace, page 3, Jan 2011, available at USIP publications
  3. Report: "Our bodies are still trembling: Haitian women's fight against rape", page 15, July 2010, available at MADRE.org
  4. Report: "Our bodies are still trembling: Haitian women's fight against rape", page 17, July 2010, available at MADRE.org
  5. Report: "Our bodies are still trembling: Haitian women's fight against rape", page 16, July 2010, available at MADRE.org
  6. Ibid.
  7. Security After the Quake? Addressing Violence and Rape in Haiti, report by United States Institute of Peace, page 3, Jan 2011, available at USIP publications
  8. Article "Haiti: KOFAVIV" at MADRE.org
  9. Security After the Quake? Addressing Violence and Rape in Haiti, report by United States Institute of Peace, page 2, Jan 2011, available at USIP publications
  10. Article "Haiti: KOFAVIV" at MADRE.org
  11. FAVILEK website
  12. FAVILEK theatre

External links

Report: "Our Bodies are still trembling: Haitian Women's Fight Against Rape", July 2010

Report: "Security After the Quake? Addressing Violence and Rape in Haiti", United States Institute of Peace, Jan 2011

FAVILEK website

KOFAVIV website

Crisis in Haiti: issues and analysis, Association for Women's Rights and Development

Struggling to Survive: Sexual Exploitation of Displaced Women and Girls in Port au Prince, Haiti, 2012

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