Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Empower women to speed recovery

By Kathleen Kline, Miami Herald

Gender equality in every aspect of Haiti’s recovery and reconstruction process is vital to the country’s future prosperity. To assure the highest returns on the $9.9 billion in aid pledged by the international community, Haitian women and men must have equal roles in rebuilding Haiti’s political, economic and social infrastructure.

Investments in women and girls must be made at the highest levels of government and in community grassroots organizations.

Equal representation of men and women in positions of power is paramount to addressing poverty, poor healthcare, education deficiencies and sexual discrimination. Before the earthquake Haitian women had a low level of political participation and held about 4 percent of seats in Parliament. Lack of representation limited their voice in economic and social policy decision-making.

Moving forward, Haitian women must have leadership roles in national government. Future legislation must prioritize the needs of women and children and promote gender equality in all aspects of society.

How can women influence change in Haiti?

Women leaders can put an end to sexual discrimination and gender-based violence. Currently, Haiti has no specific legislation protecting women from sexual discrimination, nor does it criminalize gender-based violence. Rape became a criminal offense only five years ago.

The absence of laws to protect women have resulted in very high levels of rape, domestic violence and trafficking of women. Tragically, 70 percent of adolescent girls and women have been exposed to violence, with a majority of rapes and sexual assaults occurring among girls under 18.

With the recent devastation and displacement of the Haitian people, incidents of domestic violence, assaults against women and rape will continue to increase. Protections for women’s rights must be enacted immediately.

Women and men must have equal economic and employment opportunities. Women head 44 percent of Haitian households and are disproportionately affected by poverty and unemployment.

Evidence shows women channel more income into children and the community than men do. Investments in professional training and job creation for women will yield high returns and a stronger economy. Women’s position in society can only improve by providing them with equal resources and opportunities.

Haitian women must be afforded their right to safe and healthy pregnancies. They must also have the authority to make decisions about their use of contraceptives, particularly in emergencies. Haiti has the highest rates of maternal deaths, infant mortality and HIV/AIDS in the Western Hemisphere. Before the earthquake 76 percent of infant births were assisted by nonqualified personnel, and one in 44 women died in pregnancy or childbirth each year.

During the rebuilding process, aid organizations must include and train women in prevention, diagnosis and treatment strategies.

All children must have access to quality education. Before the earthquake just over 50 percent of Haiti’s children went to primary school and only 2 percent finished secondary school. Education is necessary to alleviating poverty and improving the health of the nation. At the grassroots level, women and children must fully participate in needs assessments, intervention design, implementation and evaluation of health and education programs.

The female perspective must be considered in all decisions to rebuild Haiti’s infrastructure Women are at the heart of the family, and their well-being greatly influences their communities.

If given equal representation in government, women will change social norms that have prevented them from contributing at their fullest capacity.

At the grassroots level women’s involvement can promote a healthier, better educated nation.

All Haitians must have ownership in the nation’s recovery and reconstruction efforts and all groups — including women and men, rich and poor — must be active participants in this process.

Kathleen Kline is pursuing her master’s in public health at George Washington University. Her field of interest is maternal and children’s health in the United States and abroad.

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