Prioritize Aid to Women in Haiti: Open Letter to the Heads of State and to the United Nations

A magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010. Estimates of the death toll currently exceed 200,000, and approximately one million Haitians have been displaced from their homes.

As a result of the gender inequality that permeates nearly all societies, natural disasters often have a disproportionately negative impact on women. According to the Pan-American Health Organization, women have less access to resources and are less likely to be involved in the decision-making processes critical to effective disaster preparedness, mitigation, and relief and recovery efforts. Furthermore, women’s gender-specific needs often receive short shrift in emergency relief planning, and numerous studies have found that the incidence of sexual and domestic violence often rises following natural disasters.

Women in Haiti suffer extremely high levels of poverty and discrimination, both of which will be greatly exacerbated by the effects of the earthquake. Furthermore, considering that 43% of Haitian heads of household are women, and that women are overwhelmingly responsible for housekeeping and childrearing, it is Haiti’s women who will be responsible for the survival of their families, of caring for and protecting their children in makeshift shelters, and of the reconstruction of their homes and communities.

Therefore, we, the undersigned, call upon all heads of state, the United Nations, and other multilateral agencies providing aid to the people of Haiti to prioritize aid for women, and to guarantee that aid reaches women and their families directly. One way in which this can be accomplished is to support civil society organizations working directly with Haitian women.

Likewise, we call upon Haiti’s government to ensure that humanitarian aid is distributed in an equitable manner, and in such a way that competition for aid does not increase women’s marginalization and gender-based violence.

Women are critical to reconstruction efforts following natural disasters. Governments and other donors must help ensure that Haitian women have access to the resources required to rebuild their families, their communities, and their country, and that their human rights are respected.

~ Las Petateras

If you would like to unite with us in calling on the U.N. and world leaders to prioritize aid for Haitian women in the wake of the earthquake. Please send your name and other information to maggie@justassociates.org.