Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Op-Ed: Hope, Haiti and an End to Gender-Based Violence

By Lara Pukatch, Take Part
April 23, 2013
Gender Based Violence in Haiti Can Be Solved

The global epidemic of violence against women and girls can be addressed by how America spends its foreign aid funds.

It’s appalling.

In some countries, up to 70 percent of women will experience some form of violence in their lifetimes.

But earlier this month I found reason for hope in the words of a Haitian women’s advocate—we’ll call her Marie—who I met in a rural town a few hours away from Port-au-Prince.

“I want women to see themselves as women with possibility,” she told me.

Marie—and women across the world—work every day to reclaim that sense of possibility for the millions of women and girls facing gender-based violence.

For her part, Marie works with a local organization that fights domestic child slavery—known in Haiti as the restavek system.

Most of these domestic child slaves are girls. They are often malnourished, neglected, and abused physically, sexually or mentally.

Tragically, child slavery isn’t the only form of gender-based violence in Haiti. High rates of sexual and domestic abuse are also pressing concerns. Sometimes violence is at the hands of a guardian or parent. Sometimes it’s at the hands of a husband. Sometimes it’s at the hands of a stranger.

Marie’s organization is working to change attitudes and social norms through public education campaigns, peer meetings and more. Local organizations such as Marie’s shouldn’t go it alone in their fight to end gender-based violence.

That’s why Women Thrive Worldwide is working to amplify the voices of local partners around the globe to stop abuse, rape, so-called honor killings, dowry deaths and other gender-based violence.

U.S. international assistance has an important role to play.

American assistance goes a long way to making sure women have the resources to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. It supports organizations such as Marie’s that work to keep girls safe. It can target resources to areas like Haiti that have been affected by disaster, when violence against women often increases. And it bolsters efforts to eliminate the root causes of gender-based violence.

We know that ending gender-based violence is key to empowering women and girls.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a tireless advocate for women and girls. Fortunately, our new Secretary of State also has a long record as a champion for the world’s women. While in the Senate, John Kerry was a leading architect of the International Violence Against Women Act.

And now is the time to ensure that Secretary Kerry remains committed to addressing gender-based violence.

We are all safer when girls are free to fetch water without fear of being attacked.

We are all stronger when women can speak up about rape without being stigmatized.

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