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Ashley Elsey

Haiti 2010 Earthquake Impact on Gender

Haiti is known as one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere. There are

complexities that contribute to the long history of Haiti’s impoverished condition. This ex-

treme poverty makes way for the issue of gender inequality. This issue was extremely exas-

perated by the Haiti 2010 earthquake. This natural disaster devastated the country and made

way for long standing issues to progress and deepen. Following the earthquake, Haiti was in

international spotlight for relief with funds pouring in across the world, but there was debate

on how the funds can be ethically distributed. Haiti was in chaos midst the aftermath of the

disaster, which is where my research will be focused. Here, we see gender inequality and gen-

der based violence showcased. As we take a look at the condition of life of women following

the 2010 earthquake, we will also look at how nonprofits and other organizations were able to

intervene and begin making reforms leading to gender equality.

First, it is important to understand the magnitude of the 2010 earthquake, and how it left

Haitian society. The earthquake was ranked a 7.0 in intensity and was centered just southwest

of Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital. The estimated number of deaths were over 200,000

and nearly 300,000 were injured or permanently disabled (Duramy, 2011). 285,000 houses

and buildings, nearly 4,050 schools were totally destroyed (Etienne 2012 ). 30 of the 49 hos-

pitals were ruined. 2 million citizens displaced, forcing them to Internally Displaced Persons

(IDP) camps, or to empty rural land. The summer following the earthquake, there were a re-

ported 1300 IDP camps, housing 1.5 million people. The conditions of these living units were

lowly slums with no latrines, no police, contaminated water, and lack of food. These living

conditions set a cruel climate for sexual violence to flourish. Funding was flowing in with red
tape to be used for clean water, food, and shelter- gender violence skyrocketed under the radar

with little direct funding in the immediate aftermath.

Before we explore gender and gender based violence (GBV) after the earthquake, there

is a need to understand the philanthropic methodology that took place. With and large scale

natural disaster, developed countries have NGO sects that want to give individuals the oppor-

tunity to come to the aid of the victims. It has been measured that 3.17 billion dollars came

from NGO’s and charities. Between grass-root and Red Cross size nonprofits, is a plethora of

groups working to deliver aid. However, in the event of natural disaster, donor intent is usu-

ally restricted to be used for relief measures only. The lifeblood of nonprofits is trust, which

means the funds must be used with the intent they are given. In the aftermath of the 2010 trag-

edy in Haiti, there was an extremely utilitarian based ethics that was dominating how donation

money was used. Utilitarianism philanthropy can be explained as saving the greatest number

at all costs. It focuses on saving the dying rather than helping the living. The world was

watching the number of deaths rise and little coverage was showing the condition of survi-

vors. Media was covered with dead bodies, disabled survivors, and infrastructure ruins, rather

than testimony of women within IDP camps. Neither right or wrong, it is still important to un-

derstanding why the human rights and gender activists took time before gaining momentum.

It is vital to note that there has always been humanitarian efforts happening in Haiti (es-

timated 10,000 NGOs before earthquake). In fact, before 2010 Haiti was known as the “Re-

public of NGOs.” The earthquake however put the Haitian condition of life in the mainstream,

which lead to a greater number of NGO’s who would rebuild the country (northeastern).

There has been a stream of resources buffing up relief efforts, but those resources have been
distributed to gender issues months after the disaster. What has happened is the long lived is-

sue of gender inequality and gender based violence skyrocketed in the IDP camps and

throughout urban areas. “From January 13-March 21, KOFAVIV tracked 230 incidents of

rape in 15 camps in Port-au-Prince. There are over 500 camps in the capital. Medicines Sans

Frontiers reported 68 cases of rape in the month of April at one of their clinics in Port-au-

Prince. The vast majority of the women living in camps who were interviewed reported being

raped by two or more individuals, almost always armed and at night”(Eng 2014)

From my research I have found that there are many key contributions to why and how

gender violence and inequality has thrived in Haiti post earthquake. First, women being

abused were afraid to approach police, as there is seldom retribution when you cannot identify

your offender. By telling an officer you are bringing your abuse into the eye of the community

deeming you unclean. Another reason is that for months, the government would not

acknowledge the issue, let alone make steps to respond. Another reason was in weeks follow-

ing the tragedy, poverty became so intense many young girls and women who were displaced

were forced to sell their bodies in exchange for food aid cards, which many did not under-

stand as a form of rape. Another reason is that post-earthquake survivors were sleeping either

under a tarp or blanket with no privacy. It was common to house displaced victims, which put

them in close proximity with strangers. Gender based violence flourished right after was that

the lack of property and privacy created an environment where male gangs erected out of

camps who were highly violent. All of this took place in just months after the earthquake

when food and water aid was being distributed. But most importantly is the fact that The Hai-
tian Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Rights who was the government agency for gender re-

forms had there building and records destroyed in the earthquake along with killing the direc-

tor and staff preventing government leadership following the disaster (MADRE 2010).

The theme I found across interviews was that the issue on gender violence is not new, it

had just worsened. This worsening gave momentum for women’s groups to advocate for im-

mediate and longterm gender reform. The rejection of the negative female stigma was already

in conversation by Haitian feminists. Women were seen as lowlier than men. The culture fed

into a macho stereotype that degraded women. Women not only took care of the children, the

land, and the economic trade, but were normalized to submit to aggressive and pressing mar-

riages. Even at school, young girls were subjected to risky sexual predator environments.

Women were running the countries basic needs, while having no political power or policy

protecting them. The earthquake in the face of this oppressive culture lead to horror, but even-

tual reform. It was as if the world was seeing Haiti hit GBV rock bottom, so a wave of organi-

zations rose up to save the women.

After the disaster a Guide to Gender Aware Post Disaster Needs Assessment was re-

leased giving objectives to reform the culture where gender disparity has existed in Haiti’s re-

building, by recovery and meeting needs(Eng, 2014). However, it took months after the disas-

ter before the steps were implemented. What is remarkable is what took place a couple

months after IDP camp issues and gender violence was increasing. Women’s grassroots or-

ganizations in Haiti re-mobilized activities in spite of losing leaders, staff, and becoming part

of the actual camps. Kay Fans, SOFA, AFASDA, and KOFAVIV set up temporary offices.

KONAP worked with UN Women in providing workshops to deal with sexual violence.

There was a woman’s initiative that handed dignity hygiene kits that gave soap, sanitary pads,
counseling, and women group access (Eng, 2014). Because of the earthquake there has been a

heightened access to aid and concept development for Woman’s organizations. Some projects

that were funded post earthquake include the following;

GARR: Counseling to raped women from IDP’s, provide mediation, lawyers, help to get di-
vorce and seperation status legally.

V.E Vital: Register rape cases 24 hours day day and provide emergency shelters, use testimo-
nies to advocate international awareness for reform needs.

Viva Rio: Trains leaders in progressive ideals of gender violence and inequality.

YWCA Haiti: Provides safe interactive physical spaces for adolescent girls with long term em-
powerment programs. Goal to empower girls and increase safety net.

KOFAVIV: Men training awareness for anti violence and stigma change of women.

NGO Beyond Borders: Rethinking Power initiative addressing violence and unequal power re-
lationships. provide workshops to women to build concrete skills to heighten autonomy.

NGO PROJECT HAITI: Education, sports programs, conflict resolution program for youth, in-
ternational engagement project for youth.

This is just a hint of the organizations that emerged out of the rubble of the 2010 earth-

quake. Haiti does still have a long way to come in stigma of women, women roles, and GBV-

but what is important is the work is now being done. Haiti has become a ground for trial re-

forms by government programs and NGO’s. Despite the tragedy the 2010 earthquake brought

Haiti, gender reform is taking place with support worldwide. .

Work Cited

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International Law Review, 25, 1193-1215.

Etienne, Y. (2012). Haiti and Catastrophes: Lessons Not Learned. In M. Schuller & P. Morales
(Eds.), Tectonic Shifts: Haiti Since the Earthquake (pp. 27-32). Sterling, VA: Kumarian
Press.
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and the overlooked. Ethics and Behavior, 14(2), 141-174.

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Young, Elise. (2011).“The Haiti Gender Shadow Report." Equality Now.

Eng, Ann. "The gender fault line of Haiti's 2010 earthquake." The fight for Woman's bodies,
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MADRE. (2010). "Post-Earthquake Violence Against Women in Haiti: Failure to Prevent,


Protect and Punish." ReliefWeb. Accessed April 25, 2017. http://reliefweb.int/report/
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