Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Tale Of Two Haitis

Just recently, I received the following email from the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund written by Gary Edson, the CEO of this project:

Help us rebuild more lives in Haiti I recently traveled to Haiti and visited Leogane -- the city at the epicenter of the earthquake -- where I witnessed the incredible rebuilding efforts you have helped make possible.

I met Jerry Joseph, an inspiring father, who was so proud to tell us how he uses his new IT skills to help build network sites and provide technical support in his town.

The technical training Jerry received was from Inveneo -- a Clinton Bush Haiti Fund grant recipient. With the salary that Jerry earns he is able to send his five-year-old son to school. The future looks bright for Jerry and his son Jerus.

Jerry is just one of many success stories I saw in Haiti. And there will be many more stories to come as we continue our transition from emergency relief and assistance programs to long-term reconstruction efforts, which promote job growth and economic opportunity.

The critical work to rebuild Haiti continues. Be a part of it by making a donation to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund now:

The creation of jobs does more than change individual lives. Economic stability has the power to transform whole communities and allows Haiti to chart its own successful future.

While visiting the town of Jacmel, we witnessed the powerful impact artisan sales to stores like Macy's can have on a community. These sales were made possible through organizations like BrandAid and Fairwinds Trading.

As our Fairwinds Trading partner explained, "It was stunning to see this town after that first order from Macy's hit. The vibe changed. Suddenly there was work, jobs, money was flowing. People were smiling."

You made these smiles possible. BrandAid and Fairwinds Trading are examples of two incredible Clinton Bush Haiti Fund recipients.

I spoke with Haitians encouraged by job growth. Small business owner and artisan Gerard Dumas, who cares for seven children, previously employed four to five people. He now employs 15 people as the direct result of business through Fairwinds Trading.

Help us transform even more communities. Make a donation to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund today and help us build back Haiti even better:

The road to economic security for Haiti will be a long one, but we're seeing progress in Haiti and we remain hopeful.

Wow, it sounds like things are really turning around there - for some, at least.

What I found to be striking, and disconcerting, about this letter from Mr. Edson is that it said NOTHING about how women are faring in Haiti. See, I had just read the following article by Tracy Wilkinson of the LA Times a day before I got this email, "Rape Flourishes In Rubble Of Haitian Earthquake."

Well, the title gives you a pretty good idea of what is happening to women in Haiti. In all honesty, this article brought me to tears. It is disturbing on so many levels, including how much a part of the culture sexual assault against women, and girls, is:
Halya Lagunesse thought she knew despair. Nearly seven years ago, the soldiers who had killed her husband gang-raped the Haitian woman and her daughter Joann, who was 17 at the time.

But that pain pales in comparison to the torment of learning last March that her 5-year-old granddaughter had been raped.

The attacker gave the child about 50 cents to go and buy rice. On her way back, he intercepted her and dragged her into a cemetery.

"How did that happen? How did that happen?" Lagunesse, 50, cried, wringing her hands.

"This situation does something to their minds and makes people sick," she said. "Their hearts are bad."

Hers is a tragedy of rape compounded: Her granddaughter, now 6, was conceived in the gang rape of her daughter.

Six years old. A child conceived by rape is raped herself at SIX YEARS of age.

As to the culture in Haiti, there is this:
Rape wasn't even considered a serious criminal offense in Haiti until five years ago.

The women who pushed for the legislation making it so also built Haiti's first shelter for abused women. Next they had hoped to make fathers legally bound to acknowledge their children and pay some support.

Haitian women are the poorest and most disenfranchised in this poorest of nations in the hemisphere. And yet, through the work of a spirited coterie of feminist activists, real strides were being made.

Until Jan. 12, 2010.

How disturbing is that, that rape was not even considered serious until five years ago. The effect of the earthquake is far-reaching:
Haiti's cataclysmic earthquake killed hundreds of thousands, left this capital in ruins and sent more than a million people into a life in crowded, squalid camps.

It also devastated a strong and surprisingly successful women's movement, which, a year later, struggles like the rest of the nation to recover, even as women are being subjected to horrific sexual violence.

So much has been lost.

Magalie Marcelin, the indefatigable activist with the gap-toothed smile who founded one of Haiti's most important women's advocacy organizations, Kay Fanm. Crushed to death as she mentored an aspiring feminist.

Myriam Merlet, broad-faced, cheerily abrasive and endlessly effective, whether in her position at the Women's Ministry she helped shape or lobbying for the rape law she helped enact. Died in her home under a ton of concrete.

And there were so many more, equally and less famous, midwives, nuns and professors, peasant leaders and government officials, all who worked for women. All gone.

"It was a very big loss," activist Danielle Saint-Lot said. "We cried together. We are mourning together." [snip]

Indeed. Not only were so many people lost, so much devastation to this already poor nation, but the impact on women and girls is tremendous.

How is it that Mr. Edson missed this in his upbeat review of the situation in Haiti a little more than a year after the quake? He made no mention whatsoever of women in Haiti, and what they are enduring. That is just shameful.

Well, there is the obvious answer to that question, and it is not a good one. Suffice it to say, I am not exactly running for my checkbook to give more money to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. Rather, I will find a women's organization working there to support instead.

But I am getting ahead of the story. It is a long article, and I cannot possibly reprint it all here. I encourage you to read the article in its entirety at the LA Times. But here is just a bit more of it:
"If you tell anyone," one of her attackers threatened, "we will kill your brother or your sister."

After the rape, Simone, 23, sought medical attention. Then an organization that helps rape victims, Kofaviv, took her under its wing and gave her psychological counseling.

But she still lives in the plastic-tarp tent, and her attackers lurk, murmuring their threats, watching her.

"I feel very unsafe," said the young woman, whose bright eyes widen as she tells her story. "I have nowhere else to go. I am tortured."

Rape has long been a scourge in Haiti. It was used as a form of political repression in 1994 and in 2004, periods of upheaval when military dictators and their brutish gangs of enforcers seized power. Men who opposed the regime were abducted and killed, women raped. An entire generation of Haitians is filled with children of rape.

The earthquake generated new shockwaves of sexual violence. Hundreds, maybe thousands — there is no comprehensive count — have been raped. Some of the assaults are crimes of opportunity, but increasingly they seem a calculated, predatory form of stalking and attacking.

Only a few of an estimated 1,300 tent encampments that are spread through this shattered capital have nighttime lighting or significant police presence. Tents do not have doors or locks. People are jammed together in dehumanizing density without privacy.


Young women are easy prey for uneducated, unemployed men who populate the camps, often stoned and with time on their hands. They see women and girls as fair game. Many women have denounced camp leaders, always male, for demanding sexual favors in return for tents, food and building materials.

Activists are bracing for a jump in teen pregnancies and HIV and AIDS cases, whether from rape or unprotected sex, since clinics that dispensed birth control and advice were also destroyed. The United Nations estimates that Port-au-Prince needs at least 1,000 maternal-care clinics. There are 10. [snip](Please click here to read the rest.)

Why is that? Why do so few of these encampments have lighting or a security presence? It seems to me that should have been a major priority post-earthquake: the safety of those who are left. Given that rape and sexual assault are so problematic in Haiti, it is astonishing that more money, more work, more intention has not gone to doing so. It is also unacceptable.

One organization working for the women of Haiti is KOFAVIV. You can access them on Facebook, or through MADRE, another women's organization which is working with this organization, which was established by rape victims for rape victims in Haiti. If you are so inclined, you can make a donation through the MADRE site.

What is happening to the women in Haiti is reprehensible, abhorrent, and unacceptable. It must stop. And it would sure be nice if the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund added Women's Rights (and security) to the list of their programs in Haiti (if it is there, I missed it). Until then, I'll be sending my money to women's organizations who ARE doing the work to secure women's and children's rights, their HUMAN rights, to be free of fear and sexual assault.

And maybe Mr. Edson needs to take another look at what is happening to over half the population in Haiti before he paints so rosy a picture...

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