Archive for January 23rd, 2010

It is with tremendous sadness that UNIFEM learned about the deaths of several women leaders from governmental and civil society organizations in Haiti. Among these were Myriam Merlet, Chief of Cabinet of the Ministry of Women’s Condition and Rights and founder of the umbrella women’s organization National Coordination for Advocacy on Women’s Rights (CONAP); Myrna Narcisse, Director General of the Ministry of Women’s Condition; Magalie Marcelin, founder of KayFamn, which operates the only shelter for victims of gender-based violence; and Anne-Marie Coriolon, founding member of one of Haiti’s largest women’s groups, Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn (SOFA).

These women had a long history of service and commitment to human rights, gender equality and social justice. Their lives exemplified the character traits of courage, fortitude and optimism. None of them was faint of heart nor easily discouraged by the magnitude of the socio-economic challenges that Haiti confronts.

UNIFEM honours all those women, men and children who lost their lives in the earthquake and pledges its long-term commitment to the task of rebuilding, to supporting in very practical ways the struggles of the Haitian peoples in this very difficult time.

We join Haitians in the knowledge that sustained work undertaken with optimism and good faith is the pathway to the realization of the vision of Haiti characterized by development, equity and peace for all.

See also:
* Women’s movement mourns death of 3 Haitian leaders
* A Directory of Organizations Working In and For Haiti


The possibility of child trafficking in Haiti following that country’s devastating earthquake has become a top concern for the United Nations organization that oversees the welfare of children.

Many children have been separated from their parents or caregivers because of the Jan. 12 earthquake, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, making them potential victims of trafficking or sexual exploitation.

“In this type of emergency, children are unfortunately the most vulnerable, especially those who have been abandoned,” UNICEF spokeswoman Veronique Taveau told a news briefing.

UNICEF acknowledged it had received reports of violence against children in Haiti since the quake but would not provide details.

The reports have made it difficult for one Canadian pastor who cares for orphans in Gonaives, located about 150 kilometres north of Port-au-Prince.

Pastor Noel Ismonin has been scouring camps of Haitians left homeless by the quake for orphans to bring back to Gonaives with him, but has found his offers sometimes rejected outright.

“They’re going to be abused,” cried one Haitian man at one tent city, to Ismonin’s dismay.

Later, a man offered to sell Ismonin a young boy in his care for $50. Ismonin refused.

“We’re not trying to take these kids away from their families,” Ismonin told CBC News. “I want to help those who have no mother or father or support for the future.”

UNICEF has partnered with the Haitian government, Red Cross and Save the Children, a non-profit organization, also to identify and register unaccompanied children wandering the chaotic streets of the capital Port-au-Prince, and to re-unite them with their families when possible.

“UNICEF’s position has always been that whatever the humanitarian situation, family reunification must be favoured,” said Taveau.

“If parents are dead or unaccounted for, efforts should be made to reunite a child with his or her extended family, including grandparents,” she said.

Many countries, including Canada, the United States and the Netherlands, have amended their adoption policies to make it easier for citizens to adopt children from Haiti.

Canada has said it would step up processing of immigration applications from Haitians who have Canadian relatives. Haitians temporarily in Canada would be allowed to extend their stay and priority consideration would be given to pending adoption cases.

The United States will temporarily allow entry to orphaned children from Haiti to receive care, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Monday.

Its “humanitarian parole policy” will be applied to children legally confirmed as orphans who are eligible for adoption in another country by the Haitian government and are being adopted by U.S. citizens.

See also: Call for halt to Haiti adoptions over traffickers

The international community must act to ensure the safety of women and girls following the earthquake in Haiti, ActionAid said on Thursday.

With an estimated 1.5 million people homeless, ActionAid is concerned that women are particularly vulnerable to abuse.

In one of the camps ActionAid is working in, several women have reported cases of rape or sexual abuse to our staff. Natural disasters can result in vulnerable women being forced to exchange sex for food to feed their families as well as heightened levels of sexual violence as a result of an absence of the rule of law.

In the camp, women have organised a system for the most vulnerable women to be guarded by volunteers at night. Every afternoon a Haitian police officer visits the camp and residents report whoever has been accused of rape. This has significantly lowered the threat and is a positive sign of community self-organisation, but thousands of other women in Haiti remain at risk.

In the coming weeks, ActionAid will be working to strengthen this women’s committee and set up similar systems in other camps.

The example of this camp shows that Haitians are acting themselves to protect women when they can. However, international efforts in the relief operation and in the longer-term rebuilding of the country must include the safety of women as a high priority.

Myra De Bruijn of ActionAid in Haiti said: “Women are always in danger after natural disasters such as earthquakes and we are already hearing reports of rape. Currently these are isolated incidents but they highlight the fact that women are at risk and must be protected.

“After the 2004 Asian tsunami we saw rape, sexual abuse, sexual discrimination and harassment, as well as domestic violence in camps and we have to make sure that does not happen in Haiti.”

ActionAid, which is part of the relief operation in Haiti, will also ensure that women receive appropriate emergency supplies such as clothing, undergarments and sanitary towels, and that women who are pregnant or breast-feeding receive enough food and nutrients.