Archive for the ‘Climate Environment’ Category

One year after the earthquake which killed 230,000 people and injured 300,000 on 11 January 2010, more than one million people still live in appalling conditions in tent cities in the capital Port-au-Prince and in the south of Haiti, where women are at serious risk of sexual attacks. Those responsible are predominately armed men who roam the camps after dark.

More than 250 cases of rape in several camps were reported in the first 150 days after January’s earthquake, according to Amnesty International’s 39-page report, Aftershocks: Women speak out against sexual violence in Haiti’s camps. (Download as a pdf file

One year on, rape survivors continue to arrive at the office of a local women’s support group almost every other day.

Gerardo Ducos, Amnesty International Haiti researcher, said: “Women already struggling to come to terms with losing their loved ones, homes and livelihoods in the earthquake, now face the additional trauma of living under the constant threat of sexual attack. For the prevalence of sexual violence to end, the incoming government must ensure that the protection of women and girls in the camps is a priority. This has so far been largely ignored in the response to the wider humanitarian crisis.”

Sexual violence was widespread in Haiti before January 2010 but this has been exacerbated by the conditions since the earthquake, said Amnesty. The limited assistance the authorities previously provided has been undermined by the destruction of police stations and court houses. This has made it more difficult to report sexual violence.

Over 50 survivors of sexual violence shared their experiences with Amnesty International for the study.

One 14-year-old girl, Machou, lives in a makeshift camp for displaced people in Carrefour Feuilles, south-west Port-au-Prince. She was raped in March when she went to the toilet. She told Amnesty:

“A boy came in after me and opened the door. He gagged me with his hand and did what he wanted to do… He hit me. He punched me. I didn’t go to the police because I don’t know the boy, it wouldn’t help. I feel really sad all the time…I’m afraid it will happen again.”

One woman, Suzie, recounted how she was living in a makeshift shelter with her two sons and a friend when they were attacked around 1am on 8 May. Suzie and her friend were both blindfolded and raped in front of their children by a gang of men who forced their way into their shelter. Suzie told Amnesty:

“After they left I didn’t do anything. I didn’t have any reaction… Women victims of rape should go to hospital but I didn’t because I didn’t have any money… I don’t know where there is a clinic offering treatment for victims of violence.”

Suzie lost her parents, brothers and husband in the January earthquake. Her home was also destroyed.

Amnesty’s report highlights how the lack of security and policing in and around the camps is a major factor for the increase in attacks over the past year.

The response by police officers to survivors of rape is described as inadequate. Many survivors of rape have said that when they sought police help they were told officers could do nothing.

Gerardo Ducos added: “There has been a complete breakdown in Haiti’s already fragile law and order system since the earthquake with women living in insecure overcrowded camps. There is no security for the women and girls in the camps. They feel abandoned and vulnerable to being attacked. Armed gangs attack at will; safe in the knowledge that there is still little prospect that they will be brought to justice.”

Amnesty is calling for the new Haitian government to urgently take steps to end violence against women as part of a wider plan to address the humanitarian effort. Amnesty’s report insists that women in the camps must be fully involved in developing any such plan.

Immediate steps should include improving security in the camps and ensuring that police are able to respond effectively and that those responsible are prosecuted.

Aid agencies and donors are failing to take into account the relief and security needs of women displaced by disasters and conflicts, according to Elisabeth Rasmusson, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

For example, in Pakistan’s northwest Khyber Pakhtunkwa province, cultural practices mean Pashtun women cannot be seen by men who are not family members. So when the worst floods in the country’s history devastated their homes in July, they faced serious problems.

Unless the aid agencies on the ground had female assessment teams and other staff in place, these women were “invisible” and could not even visit the toilets during the day, Rasmusson told AlertNet in an interview.

The assistance they received – including clean water, food, sanitation and access to maternity care – was limited, she said.

“Worse, during Ramadan, women were fasting from sunset to sunrise, but they were also looking after the kids so the kids didn’t have food or drinks for 12 hours. Many babies and small children were totally dehydrated,” recalled Rasmusson, who visited the region in August.

This is just one example where women’s humanitarian needs have been overlooked, said the head of the NRC, an organisation that promotes and protects the rights of people who have been forced to flee their homes.

Around the world, millions of women uprooted by war live in fear of abuse and discrimination, aid workers say.

There are more than 43 million people displaced by conflict, three quarters of them estimated to be women and children, according to NRC. Some have fled to another part of their own country and others have crossed borders.

“Women are exposed to assault and injustice in all kinds of environments, and by anyone from a military soldier to family members,” Rasmusson said. “And often perpetrators go free, so there is little risk in abusing, raping, kidnapping or killing women.”

A binding Security Council resolution, passed 10 years ago, calls for women and girls in conflicts to be protected from rape, but only around 20 countries have implemented it. A recent U.N. report said sexual violence is an increasingly common weapon of war.

Simple measures such as making sure camps for the displaced are well-lit, building toilets within compounds, and letting civilians – instead of armed troops – run the camps can help provide safety for women, Rasmusson said.

But displaced women’s voices are not being heard, often because of “a total lack of understanding of the situation on the ground”, she added.

Donor indifference also means funding for activities to protect women from violence and discrimination has been decreasing.

With Pakistan’s flood response, for example, only 13 percent of the money needed to protect women has been provided, and in Zimbabwe, only 10 percent of this work is funded.

“Few donors are willing to fund protection activities because they’re not visible. The food, the shelter, the water, the health – all visible, tangible, concrete,” Rasmusson said.

One factor hampering displaced women’s security is the increased militarisation of protection, which is seen as the job of armed personnel even though it encompasses physical and mental safety as well as human rights, Rasmusson said.

She cited Democratic Republic of Congo as an example, saying U.N. peacekeepers there have a “contradictory mandate”. Although protecting civilians is part of their mission, they were involved in military operations last year with the Congolese army “which is one of the main perpetrators” of sexual violence against women, the top refugee official said.

“What kind of signal is that sending when you have people who are supposed to protect you supporting those who are violating your rights?” she asked.

From March to December 2009, U.N. troops backed the DRC military in an operation against Rwandan Hutu rebels in Congo’s east. Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, accused the army (link: of widespread rape and brutal killings during that time.

The rising trend of displacement in urban settings, like Kabul and Mogadishu, also leaves women and children more exposed, because of higher crime levels in cities and difficulty of access for aid agencies.

Protecting women more effectively requires a deeper understanding of the role of men in conflict, Rasmusson said, as they change from providers to warriors once they take up arms. And that aggressive role may well continue even after conflict has ended, leading to a rise in domestic violence.

Rasmusson urged peace negotiators to make more effort to seek and incorporate displaced women’s voices and needs into peace agreements and other post-conflict processes.

“We have seen time and time again (that) only women can communicate their own needs – not the men, not the foreigners, not all the international experts negotiating these peace agreements,” she said.

A group of advocates and attorneys for displaced women in Haiti submitted a petition calling for urgent action to confront an epidemic of sexual violence in the camps for displaced people. Evidence gathered through multiple on-the-ground investigations has revealed a shocking pattern of rape, beatings and threats against the lives of women and girls living in the camps. This petition for precautionary measures before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls for the IACHR to require that the government of Haiti and the international community take such immediate action as ensuring security and installing lighting in the camps.

Since the catastrophic January 12 earthquake took some 200,000 lives and rendered 1.5 million people homeless, women and girls living in the camps have faced bleak conditions and a constant threat of rape. Lawyers and researchers, partnering with Haitian grassroots women’s groups, have documented testimonies where women have been brutally attacked in their tents or while walking down poorly-lit paths within the camps. Meanwhile, basic preventative measures such as providing lighting, privacy, security and housing have been critically lacking.

Lisa Davis, MADRE Human Rights Advocacy Director and professor of law at CUNY School of Law, said “Women in the camps in Haiti have mobilized to create immediate strategies to combat violence, such as establishing night watch patrols and distributing whistles to deter rapists. But these initiatives are no substitute for governments meeting their obligations to protect women’s human rights. With the capacity of the Haitian government badly undermined even before the earthquake, the international community must join together in seeking a solution to the crisis of women’s human rights in Haiti.”

Bill Quigley, Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said today, “The ultimate solution here is permanent, safe housing for Haitians. Unfortunately, the international community has reneged on its commitment to provide essential funds for rebuilding and the U.S., in particular, has not delivered even one cent of the reconstruction funding it pledged. Women are being forced to live in extremely unsafe conditions for the foreseeable future and it is a deplorable failure on the part of those who made such a show about standing with the Haitian people in their greatest hour of need.”

Nicole Phillips, Staff Attorney with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and Assistant Director of Haiti Programs at the University of San Francisco School of Law said today, “This epidemic of rapes will continue until the international community and Haitian government address the underlying housing crisis. The crowded tent and tarp encampments that house 1.5 million Haitians in Port au Prince provide no security against sexual assault. The Haitian government’s response to the housing crisis has been to assist landowners in evicting families from displacement camps without providing any alternative place to live, further exacerbating security issues. These forced evictions must stop immediately and a comprehensive resettlement plan protecting Haiti’s displaced population must be adopted.”

Lisa Davis served as the primary author of the petition; under supervision from Davis, students from CUNY Law’s International Women’s Human Rights Clinic joined the on-the-ground investigation. Documentation from their interviews with Haitian women has become part of the petition’s record.

To view a redacted copy of the petition, click here

To view the petition in French, click here

More details at

The United Nations is launching a campaign to combat the rape of Haitian earthquake victims living in camps for the homeless, the U.N.’s top official in the country has said.

Edmund Mulet, who heads the U.N. stabilization mission in the country, told the 15-member Security Council that police and soldiers in the U.N.’s peacekeeping force are being trained how to handle rape and other sexual violence at the camps, and to ensure medical care for victims. He said a public relations campaign is under way to teach people how to prevent and respond to rape and other sexual attacks.

“I remain concerned by the situation in the camps where vulnerable groups, particularly women and children, are at risk of sexual and gender-based violence,” Mulet said, describing actions taken since Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote a report on Haiti last month.

Mulet said that a 200-member U.N. police force keeps a permanent presence in six especially high-risk camps housing 135,000 people, but that it’s impossible to regularly patrol all the camps.

More than 1.3 million Haitians were displaced by the January quake, and many remain homeless, living in camps where women and children are vulnerable to attack.

Mulet also said that the Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections must be “credible and legitimate” to ensure security in the still-fragile Caribbean nation.

“Institutional weakness, combined with the displaced persons’ camps, the resurgence of gang activity and the characteristic instability of the Haitian electoral season, contribute to creating a volatile security environment,” he said.

Sexual attacks at the camps have been a concern since shortly after the magnitude-7 temblor ravaged the Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished and least developed country, and killed an estimated 230,000 to 300,000 people.

The U.N. peacekeeping force known as MINUSTAH, with nearly 12,000 soldiers and police deployed nationwide, is charged with maintaining stability and security in Haiti during reconstruction. The force has been in Haiti since mid-2004 after then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile amid widespread unrest.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the United States remains concerned about vulnerable people in the camps and said that efforts to stop sexual and gender-based violence “must be part of a wider effort to empower women throughout the reconstruction process.”

Rice called the U.N.’s progress toward preparing security for the November elections “positive” and said “peaceful and credible elections and the transfer of power to a new government will be key milestones of Haiti’s progress.”

Britain’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Philip Parham also praised peacekeepers’ efforts to ensure electoral security, and said it was critical that the Haitian National Police be involved.

The U.N. force “must continue to do its utmost to aid the development of local policing capabilities” so that the Haitian police force no longer relies on U.N. troops “as the main providers of security” in the country.

“Six months after the earthquake in Haiti, we see a continued crisis of safety and security in the displacement camps that has exacerbated the already grave problem of sexual violence. In May and June, MADRE joined delegations coordinated by the Lawyers’ Earthquake Response Network (LERN) to Haiti to investigate the problem of rape and other gender-based violence in the camps. We found that women are being raped at an alarming rate-every day-in camps throughout Port-au-Prince. The Haitian Government, the UN and others in the international community have failed to adequately address the situation. Women, especially poor women, have been excluded from full participation and leadership in the relief effort.

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), MADRE, TransAfrica Forum and the Universities of Minnesota and Virginia law schools released this Report, Our Bodies Are Still Trembling: Haitian Women’s Fight Against Rape. The report aims to bring to light the crisis and guide governments, international organizations and other stakeholders in providing for even more effective protection and promotion of women’s human rights in Haiti.”

To access the report, please click on this link

For further information, please visit MADRE


As the disastrous toll of the floods in Pakistan becomes clear, we are relieved to have heard from some of our grantee sisters that they are safe. Many are at the heart of relief efforts in Pakistan. Shirkat Gah, a grantee partner and a key Pakistan women’s rights organization is currently mobilizing support – please consider making an emergency contribution today to support women in Pakistan as they struggle to respond to this disaster and rebuild their communities.

Donate at

Solidarity letter to our grantee sisters in Pakistan

GFW in Solidarity with Flood-Affected Communities in Pakistan on August 04, 2010

Dear Sisters in Pakistan,

The Board and staff of the Global Fund for Women would like to express our collective sadness at the destruction and loss of life that has resulted from the floods that have struck Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa (formerly the North Western Frontier Province) and other parts of Pakistan these past few days. We have learned of the tragic loss of life and physical devastation, through the media and our friends on the ground.

Donate now to support women in Pakistan.The Global Fund is writing to express our solidarity with you during this difficult time. We do not know to what extent you have been affected, but we can only hope that you, your relatives, friends, and colleagues are safe. Please send us an e-mail, if you can, to let us know how you are. We also know that some of these areas have spent many years in conflict, and that this disaster adds to the difficulties faced by women’s rights activists across the region, including increased fundamentalisms. We hope to support you as best we can in these circumstances.

As you know, the Global Fund for Women’s mission as a grantmaking organization is to strengthen women’s organizing and women’s groups in long-term efforts to advance the human rights of women and girls. The Global Fund is not a relief organization and does not have the capacity to provide direct aid in emergency situations. However, we do encourage current grantees in the region, who have been affected by the current natural disasters and their aftermath, to use the funds for whatever activities they believe are most critical at this time. In the coming months, we will be accepting grant applications to address the gender-specific needs in rebuilding and reorganizing communities affected by the devastation.

At your convenience, we would like your advice on how best to support women and girls in the affected areas. Please send us your thoughts on the situation of women and girl survivors, and guide us on what you feel should be Global Fund’s priorities in its long-term response to such disasters across the region. Do let us know if there is any other way we can be of assistance.

In solidarity,

The Asia/Oceania team on behalf of the Board and Staff of The Global Fund for Women

The Global Fund for Women is a nonprofit grantmaking foundation that advances women’s human rights worldwide. We are a network of women and men who believe that ensuring women’s full equality and participation in society is one of the most effective ways to build a just, peaceful and sustainable world. We raise funds from a variety of sources and make grants to women-led organizations that promote the economic security, health, safety, education and leadership of women and girls.

The worst part of the whole ordeal was the place where her kidnappers had chosen to imprison her. That they abducted her was terrifying. That they raped her, repeatedly, was too horrendous to absorb just yet.

But making her crawl on her stomach beneath a collapsed slab into a destroyed house where they hid her in a pocket of rubble? That was torture, she said.

“Since I had not slept under any roof since the earthquake, I was so scared I could not breathe,” said the woman who requested that her full name be withheld.

The kidnappers told her brother-in-law, who delivered the ransom of about $2,000, that they would kill her if she talked. She had no intention of doing so. But police investigators showed up at the family house in the Delmas 33 neighborhood shortly after her release, and a reporter from The New York Times happened upon the scene, later accompanying Rose to a women’s health clinic at the family’s request.

Being present when Rose and her family were grappling with the horror of her ordeal offered a firsthand glimpse inside the vulnerability that many Haitians, and particularly women, feel right now. Sleeping in camps, on the street and in yards, many feel themselves at the mercy not only of the elements but of those who prey on others’ misery.

So many cases of rape go unrecorded here that statistics tell only a piece of the story. But existing numbers, from the police or women’s groups, indicate that violence against women has escalated in the months after the Jan. 12 earthquake. Kidnappings are rare, but they, too, have increased, and “the threat is constant,” said Antoine Lerbours, a spokesman for the Haitian National Police.

Malya Villard, director of Kofaviv, a grass-roots organization that supports rape victims, said that the presence of thousands of prisoners who escaped during the earthquake aggravated an environment where insecurity and despair feed on each other.

Ms. Villard said that Kofaviv’s two dozen case workers, in Port-au-Prince, had counseled 264 victims since the earthquake, triple the number in an equivalent period last year. Arrests for rape are fewer — 169 countrywide through May, but more arrests have been made in the last few months than during the same period last year.

Since the earthquake, international relief groups have expressed concerns about violence against women, especially in the camps under their watch. Poor or nonexistent lighting, unlockable latrines, adjacent men’s and women’s showers and inadequate police protection have all been problems.

Recently, security in eight big camps has improved, with joint Haitian-United Nations police posts or patrols; about 100 Bangladeshi policewomen arrived late last month to deal with gender-based violence at three of them. But there are about 1,200 encampments throughout Haiti, and this city’s battered neighborhoods are largely left to their own defenses, too.

Read the full story at

Haitian women’s rights activists are still living in tents and cars, and mourning the loss of three leaders in the January earthquake. They are also organizing. A loose-knit coalition hopes to rebuild a more women-centered Haiti.

A loose-knit coalition of 106 organizations called Femmes Citoyennes Haiti Solidaire, or Women Citizens Haiti United, has emerged from the devastation of the January earthquake to lobby for women’s advancement during the recovery efforts.

Part of their inspiration comes from wanting to carry on for three leaders lost in the disaster, according to phone interviews with Haitian women’s advocates on the ground and experts who closely follow Haiti in the United States.

The activists have no office but are managing to reach each other through e-mail and text messages, according to Martine Fourcand, a sociologist and activist who handles the group’s communication. The coalition formed on March 19, but continues to attract longstanding organizations to its membership.

Souerette Policar Montjoie is president of Lig Pouva Fanm, a women’s leadership organization in Port-au-Prince that joined the coalition.

“We have a lot of things to say and Haitian women are very strong,” she told Women’s eNews in a phone interview. “But in Haiti, the position of men is higher than women. We want men to know that we can put our hands together. They don’t have to fight us.”

Women Citizens Haiti United members range from a collective of female university students to a network of women working in rural community organizations. Members represent an array of special projects: curbing domestic and sexual violence, as well as improving women’s access to credit, job training and education.

In the past three months organizers have met with the prime minister of Haiti and helped members coordinate with U.N. aid officers in the country. They want women to participate in all major decision bodies–local governments, municipalities and ministries. They intend to build a Haiti where women no longer suffer high levels of sexual violence and marginalization at home and in the paid work force.

In Haiti women have not been as important as men, said Montjoie. “Now we are living without electricity and water and wondering if we’ll see the end of this.”

One of the group’s most urgent goals is pushing for women’s security in the camps and streets. Organizers are preparing a guide for urban development that envisions spaces with well-lit streets and safe places for women to meet.

In the longer term, the activists hope to form partnerships with women’s movements in other countries.

“There is an amazing initiative taking place by leading women in Haiti from all levels, from rural women to the regional and national level,” said Caroyln Rose-Avila, vice president of policy and engagement at Plan USA, a nonprofit in Warick, R.I., and the third largest charity working in Haiti. “Haiti lost three well-known women in the earthquake and there is a massive grassroots movement in honor of them.”

Magalie Marcelin opened Haiti’s first shelter for battered women; she was among the roughly 300,000 killed in the earthquake.

Myriam Merlet, chief of staff for Haiti’s Ministry for Gender and the Rights of Women, and Anne Marie Coriolan, who worked in the courts to criminalize rape, which was treated as a crime of passion before 2005, were also killed by the disaster.

“These women were trailblazers in many regards,” said Marie Clotilde Charlot, a longtime women’s rights activist who works as a lead portfolio monitoring specialist for the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, D.C.

One in 16 Haitian women faces the chance of dying during childbirth during their lifetime, according to the World Health Organization, and almost a quarter of girls and teens are married before age 18.

The earthquake has worsened maternal mortality and early marriage, and the escape of prisoners from the national penitentiary has made women more vulnerable to sexual violence. More than a million people are now homeless in Haiti, according to the United Nations.

Women make up more than 75 percent of Haiti’s informal economy and provide most of the labor for subsistence agriculture. They also often take responsibility for meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in society, such as orphaned children, the elderly and the disabled.

After the earthquake, these responsibilities have intensified, said Sarah Degnan Kambou, chief operating officer of the International Center for Research on Women in Washington, D.C.

“Women have already mobilized themselves in a hundred different ways–putting extra food in the pot . . . working in informal associations to provide for each other and their families,” she said.

Kambou believes Haiti can draw lessons from Rwanda’s reconstruction after the genocide in 1994. Rwanda’s economy grew at a pace of over 11 percent in 2008, according to the World Bank, and has greatly expanded its health and education sectors since 1994. Fifty- six percent of parliamentarians in the country are women, according to the United Nations Fund for Women. Rwanda’s 2003 constitution requires that at least 30 percent of parliamentary and cabinet seats go to women.

After the genocide, women created institutions to reconstruct Rwanda and to prosecute perpetrators of the genocide. Rwanda was the first country to have a parliament where women outnumber men.

“There was still so much tension, but women were willing to sit down and struggle with how do we move forward,” Kambou said. “They put aside deep, personal pain and fear. This is one of the reasons why Rwanda is so successful now. There is inclusion of women from the bottom-up, and it is built into the constitution and political leadership.”

During a large donor conference in March, representatives from almost 140 countries came to the United Nations to raise over $5 billion for the country’s reconstruction.

But across the street, advocates from international agencies and community organizations worried aloud that women’s special needs were being left out.

“Women should not be an afterthought,” said Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian-American writer, at the meeting. “We hope the reconstruction will have opportunities for women and girls at all levels. If we stay silent, too many voices will be left out of this conversation.”

Women from the diaspora, such as 24-year-old Antoineta Beltifi, are also joining the effort to make Haiti better for women in the reconstruction process.

In New York City, Beltifi runs workshops for young and elderly Haitian women in the Beltifi Empowerment Committee, a local community organization. Since the earthquake, it has partnered with the nearby Haitian Cultural Exchange to aid traumatized children who have left Haiti after the earthquake by providing art therapy programs, such as theater and dance.

“The diaspora can start changing the lives of women abroad immediately,” said Beltifi. “Women are at the center of this. And women need to take a firmer stance to rebuild from within themselves.”

Charlot, from the Inter-Development American Bank, worries however about the odds facing resurgent women’s rights activism.

“The earthquake and chaos that it has caused have propelled women and their issues to the forefront of Haiti’s recovery and reconstruction debate,” she said, but added that the country’s woes may be too great for any movement, particularly one whose members are traumatized.

“I have friends–activists, professionals–who are still sleeping in their cars,” she said.

Investing in women smallholder farmers is the key to halving hunger and results in twice as much growth as investment in any other sector, a new ActionAid report reveals.

Less than one per cent of the agriculture budget is targeted at women in the three countries researched by ActionAid in its new report Fertile Ground – Malawi, Kenya and Uganda – despite women’s central contribution to the growing of food.

“One billion people going hungry must be a wake-up call that there’s something very wrong with our farming,” said Tennyson Williams, Acting Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “Despite recent commitments, donor aid to agriculture is still too little, uncoordinated and arrives too late. It has also been poorly targeted and remains hugely inconsistent with the realities of women’s role in food production.”

At the moment, virtually nothing is being spent on research into crops grown by women, training, credit, early childhood education and access to land, despite food price hikes and shortages likely to worsen as climate change intensifies.

Fertile Ground shows that 2.9 million Ugandans could be lifted out of poverty by 2015 if the country reached a six per cent agricultural growth rate annually.

In Kenya, 1.5 million lives could be improved, if current sums on agriculture rose from 5 to 10 per cent.

In stark contrast, Malawi is one of Africa’s highest spenders on agriculture and as a result food security is better than at any time in recent history. In 2004, 1.5 million people needed food aid while in 2009, this number had dropped to 150,000 people.

ActionAid believes that by scaling up support to smallholders to at least $40 billion per year globally, world leaders can deliver a 50 percent reduction hunger and poverty by 2015 – the most fundamental of the UN Millennium Goals.

Download: Fertile Ground Report

Women’s civil society groups were noticeable by their absence from the landmark Haiti donor conference on 31 March, which secured pledges of US$5.3 billion over the next two years to support the country’s post-quake recovery.

Their lack of a presence at the meeting was indicative of a broader missing voice in Haiti’s long-term reconstruction prospects, gender activists argued.

“Why are we not there right now, where are the women at this conference?” questioned Marie St. Cyr, a Haitian human rights advocate. “We still don’t have full participation and we certainly don’t have full inclusion. Haitian women are still being raped…they are supporting more than half of the households, and yet they are not being heard.”

More than 100 women’s groups attended an alternative conference hosted by MADRE, a New York-based organization. St. Cyr said she had lobbied for the past month to join the donor meeting, but had not received a response from any of the various co-hosts, including the United Nations, the Haitian and the US governments.

Haitian-born Massachusetts State Representative Marie St. Fleur, who represented the diaspora community at the main conference, said she was not surprised to look across the room and see few other female faces. The text of the Haitian government’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA), a blueprint plan for recovery, offered a similar lack of gender diversity, she explained.

“There needs to be a bolder vision for reconstruction, and right now, there isn’t a very clear place for women within that,” St. Fleur told IRIN. “But I think we make a mistake when we say that we have to have a place for women, because they must not placed in a corner like that. Women and girls must be integrated throughout this plan. And that doesn’t exist, right now.”

The PDNA report divides reconstruction into eight main themes, including governance, infrastructure sectors, and environmental and disaster risk development. Women gain inclusion only in the “cross-cutting sector,” which also addresses youth and culture.

The Haiti Gender Equality Collaborative, a coalition of civil society organizations, placed its own spin on the document, issuing a modified “gender shadow report” at the MADRE conference, hosted across the street from the United Nation Secretariat. It highlights the gender concerns absent from Haiti’s PDNA, and offers recommendations for gender-sensitive plans of action.

Enabling the participation of gender equality experts in all sectors of reconstruction, and ensuring that funding streams include gender-specific allocations are among the alternative report’s proposals, according to Kathy Mangones, UNIFEM’s Haiti office representative.

Women in Haiti, however, do not have the luxury of waiting for action, St. Cyr noted. Before the earthquake, they were running half the households – and those numbers have now risen, with women taking in children from other families.

The issue of sexual violence also remains an enormously grave, though largely undocumented one.

Edmond Mulet, the acting head of the UN Mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, said at a press conference last week that while the numbers are unknown, reports of sexual violence and rape are on the rise. The UN considers the matter “urgent,” he said, and plans on deploying an all-female Bangladesh Formed Police Unit (FPU) of military peacekeepers imminently. It will be the second-ever all-female FPU the UN has deployed, and Mulet anticipated their presence in the often cramped and poorly-lit displaced camps “would be extremely helpful.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted in a closing press conference at the main donor meeting that he remained “painfully aware, in particular, of reports of sexual violence”. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, among others, also spoke of the need to prioritize the needs of women.

Yet without women at the table, the sentiment fell short, said St. Cyr.

“We need to be heard because the system has failed us so miserably. These systematic failures have shown that our voices have not been taken into consideration or prioritized,” she said. “This is beyond words. It’s beyond laws that are not being implemented. It’s beyond dollars. It’s a country in degradation that is progressively being buried. The earthquake didn’t bury Haiti, Haiti has been continuously buried for years, and it’s time we help dig it out.”

The effects of the earthquake that struck Haiti some two and a half months ago have reverberated across the country. Both in and beyond the capital, Port-au-Prince, progress made in tackling long-standing human rights issues – including the problem of gender-based violence against women and girls – seems a distant memory.

In too many cases, the most vulnerable have been the victims of exploitation and abuse.

Five grassroots advocates travelled many miles recently for a chance to speak with UNICEF Haiti Gender-Based Violence Specialist Catherine Maternowska.

The six met in the backyard of small cement house located off a residential dirt road. Despite the importance they attached to this meeting, each of the three men and three women in attendance was patient and respectful.

By the meeting’s end, the situation report was bleak: Like the capital’s overcrowded settlements for displaced people, the modest homes of host families in rural regions are under increasing duress. Daily life in the close quarters of a tent or one-room house has taken away any semblance of privacy. Come nightfall, poorly located latrines – or the complete lack thereof – require women and children to steal away to unlit areas. Few people feel safe.

“Since the earthquake, as the population here has increased, so have we seen an increase in cases of violence against women,” said Anse-a-Pitre Justice of the Peace Marc-Anglade Payoute. “The police and the justice system, we’re doing everything possible. We’re continuing to pursue arrests.”

For Ms. Maternowska the problem isn’t new or surprising: Emergencies increase the vulnerability of girls and women to gender-based violence. She stresses, however, that such violence can be avoided. Local women’s, men’s and non-governmental organizations; the justice system; all UN actors; and the media all have crucial roles to play.

“Sexual violence is not inevitable,” says Ms. Maternowska. “Haiti’s women’s movement has worked long and hard to change archaic Haitian laws that put women and girls at a grave disadvantage from the day they are born. Today in Haiti, support groups are teaching both men and women how to prevent violence, as well as how to create safe spaces for their daughters.”

In the aftermath of earthquake, UNICEF staff members have met with nearly a dozen groups in south-eastern Haiti, working to create an effective referral system for survivors of violence. Small plastic-coated referral cards, printed in Haitian Creole, instruct victims on where to go for medical care and support. The cards were developed by UNICEF, in collaboration with the Haitian Government, the International Rescue Committee, and UNFPA.

“Information is key,” says Ms. Maternowska, “and placing that information in the hands of a survivor can save her life. The referral cards we’ve developed provide information on how and where to access essential medications to prevent pregnancy and HIV. And of course, the provision of timely information gives survivors access to full medical treatment, psycho-social support and justice.”

In partnership with NGOs and other UN agencies, UNICEF supports the Haitian Government’s push to include gender-based violence services as part of a comprehensive approach to women’s and girls’ health. Plans to develop dedicated health centres for women and girls are currently in the works in the areas hardest-hit by the earthquake – including Port-au-Prince, Leogane and Jacmel.

The partners’ goal is to expand these services to even the most remote corners of Haiti, including Anse-a-Pitre.

UNICEF is equally committed to the prevention of future violence through the establishment of child-friendly spaces, with activities designed to educate girls and boys about gender-based violence and help them develop life skills needed in the new and challenging camp settings. Working with an established local Haitian partner, Solidarity for Haitian Women, UNICEF has plans to create women-centered friendly spaces, as well.

Safe spaces for women and girls will address issues related to gender roles and violence through a locally produced curriculum based on gender-based violenceprevention and basic rights. Group activities such as these provide the community-based psycho-social support that Haitian women and children need.

Part of a longer report at

Many women at the Jean-Marie Vincent site for displaced people (IDPs) in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince wash themselves inside their makeshift tents because the only alternative is to do so out in the open. Given the overcrowding and meagre security, this exposes them to the risk of attack or rape.

Going to the site’s latrines is also risky, especially at night, for there is no lighting and some toilets are isolated.

“We have not yet reached a standard of organization that respects women’s rights,” Smith Maximé of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Haiti told IRIN.

“We have registered rape cases that occurred when women were in the latrines. When toilets are not secured – as in many of the camps – women are often attacked there,” he added.

The failure to meet established minimum disaster relief standards [,english/] is “creating serious security, privacy and dignity concerns”, according to the Gender in Humanitarian Response Working Group*.

“Increased lighting surrounding those latrines should be an immediate priority to ensure the safety of women and girls using sanitation facilities at night,” the Group said in a statement issued in late February.

“Increased attention must be paid to the provision of dedicated and private bathing facilities to reduce women’s current vulnerability to sexual violence. Though many women and girls bathed outdoors prior to the earthquake, the nature of many IDP sites (crowded living conditions, living near strangers) is creating new vulnerabilities to violence and exploitation, in particular at night, that did not necessarily exist before,” it said.

Overcrowding and lack of lighting in camps are part of the problem. In many camps there is no space between tents. Aid organizations and the government plan to move people from 21 of the most congested sites either back home, to host families or to land recently allotted by the authorities. In the meantime aid agencies are putting some security measures in place, such as installing lights.

“Protection is one of the major issues of concern when sites are over-congested,” Sara Ribeiro, protection coordinator with the International Organization for Migration, told IRIN. IOM is the lead agency for the group of agencies collectively tasked with organizing the management of camps for displaced people.

The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), [] a group of UN and non-UN organizations that since 1992 has worked to harmonize humanitarian best practice, stipulates [] that humanitarian actors must ensure that the route to water and sanitation facilities is safe and that latrines are well lit and lockable from the inside.

Ribeiro said another major problem was a lack of camp management agencies. As of 4 March just one-fifth of the 400 camps for displaced families had such agencies in place, she said.

Community watch groups are forming in many sites; OCHA states in a 4 March report that these groups will need training to increase the protection of women and girls.

UNFPA is working with the authorities and local NGOs to revive a system of reporting sexual violence cases. “But our immediate focus is to disseminate information on available medical and psycho-social support, and to [put first] the rights and choices of the survivor,” Lina Abirafeh, GBV coordinator for UNFPA in Haiti, told IRIN.

The agency is compiling a list of hospitals and NGOs that provide medical and counselling services for distribution in the camps.

UN aid workers say no comprehensive statistics of rape in the camps are available but rape and impunity have long been widespread in Haiti, as IASC notes. In 2008 Amnesty International reported “shocking levels” of sexual violence against girls. []

* The group comprises representatives of MINUSTAH-Human Rights, MINUSTAH-Gender Unit, UNIFEM, UNFPA, World Food Programme, IOM, UN Children’s Fund, and several NGOs, including the International Rescue Committee, American Refugee Committee, and International Medical Corps.

Edited version of report at

Elisabeth Badinter, a leading French feminist, has warned the green movement is threatening decades of improvements in gender equality by forcing women to give up their jobs and become earth mothers.

Mrs Badinter claims a “holy reactionary alliance” of green politicians, breast-feeding militants, “back to nature” feminists and child psychologists is turning Frenchwomen into slaves to green “fads” like re-usable nappies and organic food.

In her new book, Conflit, la Femme et la Mere (Conflict, the Woman and the Mother), Mrs Badinter contends that this politically correct cabal is burdening mothers with intolerable guilt unless they stay at home and breast-feed for as long as possible.

Their perfect French mother, she writes, “breastfeeds for six months and doesn’t put her baby in a crèche or not too early, because baby needs to be with mum and not in a nest of germs; she is wary of all things artificial and is ecologically-minded. The jar of baby food has become a sign of selfishness; we’re back to the purée mashed by mum.”

Women in childbirth are even made to feel that epidurals are wrong, she goes on, adding: “We don’t need to bow down to nature.”

Those who choose to stay at work or to not have children are ostracised.

“It’s as if we were all female chimpanzees,” says Mrs Badinter, 65, who is widely admired in France for her outspoken views.

The rot started in the 1990s, she claims, when the French Right introduced payments for mothers wishing to stay at home, and the trend has accelerated with environmental pressures.

Her attack on muesli-eating ecologists sparked a furious response from Cécile Duflot, head of France’s Green party.

“She has completely missed the point. The real issue is to find out why today there is still inequality between men and women on pay and domestic chores, not to consider that today having a child is a problem,” she said.

“She blasts washable nappies as an extra burden for mothers without thinking for a second that a man could put them in the washing machine.

“What she completely forgets is the notion of pleasure. One can take pleasure in raising one’s baby – that goes for men too.” As for the breast-feeding brigade, Miss Duflot pointed out that only half of French women breastfeed, compared to 99 per cent in Norway.

Edwige Antier, a paediatrician and MP for President Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-Right UMP party also slammed Mrs Badinter, calling her an “archeo-feminist” who is “in denial of motherhood”.

She had, she added, overlooked two key advancements in recent decades: the advent of the contraceptive pill and the child psychologist’s notion that babies are real people whose upbringing can bring fulfilment.

Mrs Badinter’s views are particularly controversial in France, where the rate of women who return to full-time employment after one child is the highest of all industrialised countries. It also has the highest birth rate in Europe.

She argues that France will go the way of Germany, Italy and other low birth rate countries if women feel too pressured into staying at home.

The feminist conceded that most French women managed to balance motherhood and work. But the trend for mothers to stay at home “excuses men in advance for continuing to do nothing in the house”, she says. According to a study published in November, French women do 80 per cent of household chores.

“If we don’t watch out, we can say goodbye to women’s freedom of choice and to the struggle for sexual equality,” she told Le Journal du Dimanche.

Haitian women’s groups report that while contributions from the international community continue to pour in, “in many camps essentials such as food and clothing are not yet widely available, especially for women and children.”

In a letter of appeal sent to colleagues in the international women’s movement, Sergia Galvan and Mayra Tavarez of Colectiva Mujeres Y Salud/CAFRA in the Dominican Republic write:

    ” … As with most other natural disasters, the strongest and the fittest tend to dominate disaster supply chain and distribution. Women and young girls are the last to have access to the supplies chain and distribution points. So they do not receive the supplies that they most urgently need in addition to food and water. So it is in Haiti.

    “Rape of young girls and women is also a growing problem as is common in the aftermath of most disasters” they write. Because of this, there is also an “urgent need for the morning after pill.

Haitian women, young girls and youth are in need of:
* Feminine supplies.
* Combs.
* Feminine wipes.
* Panties, bras and clothes and other support (especially for pregnant women and new mothers).
* Personal/household supplies for birth delivery and after: (rubbing alcohol or disposable anti-germicidal substitutes; baby wipes, baby wraps, pampers, socks and caps and supplies for nursing. mothers/newborn; (It is cold at nights so there is need to cover the feet and heads of the newborns).
* Clothing and under garments for women and young girls.
* Bedding & blankets for babies and mothers.

Their plea: Send supplies or money to help purchase any of the above items. In general, say Galvan and Tavarez, “any supplies (such as toothpaste, tooth brushes etc) that can be used for daily living for men, women, boys and girls are welcome.”

    We need your support for these resources and any financial contribution towards shipment that you are able to make.

Donations can be sent directly to:
Sergia Galvan and Mayra Tavarez
Colectiva Mujeres Y Salud/CAFRA
Calle Socomo Sanchez
No 74, Gazcu, Santo Domingo DR

This is a specific drive for Emergency Supplies for Haitian women and girls* that is being sponsored by the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) and Colectiva Mujers Y Salud (Women’s Health Collective), Dominican Republic, and the CAFRA Youth League in Haiti. This assistance is being transferred primarily through the Myriam Merlet International Solidarity Camp* directly to women and women´s organizations.

Myriam Merlet was a National Representative of CAFRA who was killed during the earthquake.

The solidarity camp is named after Myriam Merlet, a feminist activist who was killed in the earthquake last week. As an outspoken activist, Merlet helped draw international attention to the use of rape as a political weapon.

A Feminist International Solidarity Camp to help mobilize and transfer resources, and to open channels of communications directly with Haitian women will open next week on the frontier Jemaní between the Dominican Republic & Haiti. As a project organized by women’s groups in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere in Latin America & the Caribbean and beyond, the Camp will be eventually handed over to Haitian women.

The international solidarity camp is named after Myriam Merlet, It is organized as a Resource Center for international solidarity efforts to send resources directly to the women of Haiti, and also work with Human Rights defenders from Haiti to monitor, denounce and demand legal action regarding violations of human rights including women’s human rights during the earthquake and the aftermath.

Also to be included is a Health Center to help deal the grief, injuries, illnesses and traumas of the earthquake.

Coordinators of these efforts include the Women & Health Collective (COMUS) a women’s human rights and health NGO, and CIPAF, a feminist NGO of the Dominican Republic that works in building social/political movement.

The space will also serve as a Communications Center to include radio transmissions via Internet by FIRE (Feminist International Radio Endeavour), as well as blogs, and electronic networks organized by women’s communication networks throughout the region. FIRE was the first international internet radio created and run by women from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Participation is needed, particularly to find resources, share information from the Camp and develop solidarity in your place. .

For more information in English about the Myriam Merlet Feminist International Solidarity Camp and other ways to participate go to: (webpage of FIRE radio) as of Febrary 1st.

Write in English to

Or write in Spanish to: Colectiva Mujer y Salud in the Dominican Republic at

Centro de Investigación para la Acción Femenina CIPAF also in the Dominican Republic at:

See also: “Myriam Merlet, Anne Marie Coriolan & Magalie Marcelin Feminist International Camp”

and: UNIFEM Mourns the Deaths of 4 Women’s Rights Activists in 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.

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) has issued a call for close to US$2 million to provide urgently needed services for the protection of women and their families. In particular, UNIFEM seeks to rebuild women’s shelters and expand the provision of emergency services for women.

The call for funding is made through the system-wide flash appeal for US$562 million that was issued by the United Nations on 15 January 2010. In order to meet the urgent need for the protection of women and their communities, UNIFEM is also calling upon its National Committees and supporters worldwide to strengthen these fund-raising efforts and boost UNIFEM programming in Haiti.

As part of the overall UN effort in the country, the UNIFEM team in Haiti will work alongside NGO partners to strengthen services to victims of gender-based violence and their families in women’s centres and temporary shelters in Port au Prince and Jacmel. The money raised will go towards a range of efforts from emergency community-based violence prevention programmes to repairing damage of existing centres and providing humanitarian aid like emergency supplies, staff and counselling services in communities most affected. UNIFEM will also focus on coordination efforts to ensure that emergency and early recovery assessment and assistance incorporate a gender perspective to adequately address the differentiated needs of women, men and children.

UNIFEM’s work on the ground shows that too often natural disasters result in greater household and institutional instability and to increasing women’s vulnerability to violence, abuse and sexual exploitation. “This terrible humanitarian disaster is likely to impact girls, boys, women and men in different ways,” UNIFEM Executive Director Inés Alberdi said. “UNIFEM is committed along with its partners and the UN system to working to ensure that attention is given to addressing these differential impacts and in particular for ensuring the personal security of women and girls.”

See also:
* After the Quake, Depend on Women
* Work in Haiti/Work with Women. A gender responsive approach
* Why “women and children first” persists – We talk to experts about painful choices in the Haiti relief effort
* Peril Or Protection: The Link Between Livelihoods and Gender-based Violence in Displacement Settings
* Meeting Haitian Women’s Specific Needs
* Providing Gender Responsive Aid in Haiti
* Haiti’s Quake Will Disproportionately Impact Women and Girls

Women bear the disproportionate burden of climate change, but have so far been largely overlooked in the debate about how to address problems of rising seas, droughts, melting glaciers and extreme weather, concludes The State of World Population 2009, released today by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

“Poor women in poor countries are among the hardest hit by climate change, even though they contributed the least to it,” says UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid.

The poor are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and the majority of the 1.5 billion people living on $1 a day or less are women. The poor are more likely to depend on agriculture for a living and therefore risk going hungry or losing their livelihoods when droughts strike, rains become unpredictable and hurricanes move with unprecedented force. The poor tend to live in marginal areas, vulnerable to floods, rising seas and storms.

The report draws attention to populations in low-lying coastal areas that are vulnerable to climate change and calls on governments to plan ahead to strengthen risk reduction, preparedness and management of disasters and address the potential displacement of people.

Research cited in the report shows that women are more likely than men to die in natural disasters — including those related to extreme weather — with this gap most pronounced where incomes are low and status differences between men and women are high.

The State of World Population 2009 argues that the international community’s fight against climate change is more likely to be successful if policies, programmes and treaties take into account the needs, rights and potential of women.

The report shows that investments that empower women and girls — particularly education and health — bolster economic development and reduce poverty and have a beneficial impact on climate. Girls with more education, for example, tend to have smaller and healthier families as adults. Women with access to reproductive health services, including family planning, have lower fertility rates that contribute to slower growth in greenhouse-gas emissions in the long run.

“With the possibility of a climate catastrophe on the horizon, we cannot afford to relegate the world’s 3.4 billion women and girls to the role of victim,” Ms. Obaid says. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to have 3.4 billion agents for change?”

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.

Women are being excluded from the debate over climate change, despite being most at risk, and governments should do more to ensure their situations and views are represented, campaigners and experts say.

So far, climate change negotiations have responded poorly to the effects on women, activists say. And while global policies advocate a gender perspective, and including women in environment and development efforts, few governments have incorporated such policies into their national plans.

“Extreme events and environmental degradation become a women’s issue because we are responsible for providing for the whole community,” said Anna Pinto, programme director with the Centre for Organisation, Research and Education (CORE), based in northeastern India. “If the rice yield is bad, men have to migrate, find a job and send money back, while women have to ensure the day-to-day survival of the helpless. When the environment degrades it becomes more of a women’s problem. These issues need to be genderised on behalf of everyone,” she said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month called for women to have a greater role in climate change debates. “The special perspective of women is often overlooked in global discussions on climate change,” Ban told an event on women’s leadership held in New York.

Climate change-related weather events claim between two and three times as many female as male victims, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

“Women are prone to more danger,” Robert Dobias, the ADB’s senior adviser on climate change, told IRIN. “It’s the clothes they wear. Maybe they will run back and get the kids. They are often not in public places where information surfaces about disasters,” he said at the sidelines of recent climate-change negotiations in Bangkok. [] []

“Well-designed, top-down approaches to adaptation can play a role in reducing vulnerability to climate change; yet they may fail to address the particular needs and concerns of women,” said Christina Chan, senior policy analyst for CARE International. []

In Africa, women farmers produce up to 80 percent of the continent’s food, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

However, because most women work in the subsistence sector, they cannot take part in market-based adaptation schemes, according to Rose Enie, from Women for Climate Justice (GenderCC). []

“It doesn’t work for women because they are mostly in the informal sector,” she said.

Campaigners say such omissions mean women will continue to be bypassed by resilience-building initiatives – including access to land, credit, support services, new technologies and decision-making.

In addition, women are particularly overlooked when it comes to the development of environmentally friendly technology that can be used in their daily activities, said GenderCC’s Ulrike Roehr.

“Men tend to look at big-scale technology, while needs for smaller-scale technology, such as energy-efficient cooking stoves, are not taken into consideration,” Roehr told IRIN. These are the technologies which help in reducing women’s double and triple burdens, having benefits not only for emissions reduction, but also for poverty reduction and health,” she said.

Women and the communities they look after could be big losers in schemes being considered by governments to mitigate the emission of greenhouse gases, activists say.

These include plans to preserve forests, so trees can absorb and store carbon in the air. The UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) scheme, for example, will see large areas of land closed to women who had hitherto depended on the fuel, medicine, food and fodder they could find there, said Jeannette Gunung, director of Women Organising for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (WOCAN). []

“Women’s exclusion from forests is not new, but as long as forest land had little economic value they could get away with these practices,” Gunung told IRIN. “When the resource becomes of central importance, women have little voice in decision-making and are denied access,” she said.

Yet environmentally friendly solutions, such as the use of biogas – flammable gas produced by the fermentation of organic material – as an alternative and cleaner source of energy than firewood, are available, Gunung said.

“Once planners put rural women’s needs as a priority, they will come up with solutions that involve sustainable forest management and alternative energy resources,” she said.