Haiti's gang violence disproportionately hurts women and girls

Women sell their fresh product at a Tap Tap transport station days after Haiti police blocked streets and broke into the airport during a protest demanding justice for fellow police officers killed by armed gangs, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti February 1,2023. REUTERS/Ricardo Arduengo

Women sell their fresh product at a Tap Tap transport station days after Haiti police blocked streets and broke into the airport during a protest demanding justice for fellow police officers killed by armed gangs, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti February 1,2023. REUTERS/Ricardo Arduengo

The world must intervene to end suffering of Haiti’s women and girls

Angeline Annesteus is the Country Director of ActionAid Haiti and the President of Cadre de Liaison Inter Organisations - Haiti

Under the full gaze of the international community, a silent crisis unfolds in the heart of the Caribbean as gang violence continues to tear through Haitian communities, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. Sadly, the true cost of this conflict is borne disproportionately by women and girls. They face a relentless barrage of threats - sexual abuse including collective rapes and tortures, displacement, restricted access to healthcare, and a crushing burden of poverty. 

Often the primary caregivers in communities, Haitian women are forced to brave the risks and threats to take on the Herculean task of rebuilding lives in overcrowded shelters or unfamiliar neighborhoods. In these places, access to basic sanitation, hygiene facilities, and clean water is a daily struggle.  

Indeed, the specter of violence hangs heavy. Since 2018 the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence is causing immense stress and trauma among women and girls. The Single Health Information System reported 16,470 incidents of gender-based violence in 2022. 

Additionally, UNOCHA reported that rape cases increased by 49 percent in Haiti from January to August 2023, compared to the same period in 2022. 

The increase in violence and rape cases has given rise to fear. In Grand’Anse where ActionAid works, the Departmental Initiative against Child Trafficking and Smuggling a local organisation, recorded 155 cases of rape in 2023, among these were 139 minors. 

Vehicle owners fill their tanks at a petrol station as Haiti resumes fuel supplies after police break a two-month gang blockade that left the economy without petrol or diesel and sparked a humanitarian crisis, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti November 12, 2022. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol
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Survivors of sexual violence are facing many obstacles in the fight against abuse and in accessing medical care because of the danger that looms en route to medical facilities, prohibitive transport costs, impunity, and lack of prosecution of perpetrators.

In communities affected by gang activities, people, especially women, are restricted in their movements, forcing them to stay indoors, thus limiting their ability to access markets, schools, and essential services. This has created a vicious cycle – limited mobility leads to increased dependence on others for basic needs, further exposing them to the risk of violence and abuse.

This cycle of violence, displacement, limited healthcare, and economic hardship systematically excludes Haitian women and girls from participating in society. It denies them a life of safety, dignity, and opportunity.

Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable. Many healthcare facilities are in areas deemed too dangerous to access, risking the lives of mothers and their unborn babies. This lack of access has a ripple effect, impacting maternal mortality rates and hindering a healthy future generation.

Haiti has the highest maternal mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere at an estimated 529 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to reports.  

Economically, gang violence has disrupted markets and livelihoods, forcing many women out of the informal sector thereby increasing the burden, especially on female heads of households, who must now stretch limited resources even further to get food.  

So, what can the world do?  

These women are not voiceless victims. They are agents of change. However, their voices are often drowned out by the noise of international headlines focusing solely on the political unrest. We must amplify their stories, listen to their needs, and advocate for their inclusion in finding solutions.

Building the economic and political leadership of women and young girls is essential to facilitating their inclusion and active participation as agents of change in their communities. 

Last year, ActionAid Haiti partnered with two community radio stations supporting radio shows led by two young girls on the political and economic rights of women, inclusion in the democratic process in Haiti and trained 100 youth, including 60 young girls on civic engagement, political leadership, and local development. 

The voices of women and girls can be amplified by directly funding their organisations, promoting equitable partnerships, and including them in aid decision-making and response processes.

On March 27th, the government supported by UNOCHA launched the National Response Plan of Haiti 2024 (HNRP) confirming that $673.8 million is required to support at least 3.6 million people, mostly women and girls. Sadly, only less than 11 percent of this amount has been raised. Certainly, more needs to be done to increase funding and protect women.   

Moreover, women’s leadership is essential to respond to their specific needs, mitigating abuses and exploitation, and improving the quality of the response.

The plight of Haitian women must not become a forgotten story. Humanitarian agencies must continue to support the affected communities whose needs are increasing daily. 

This year’s International Women's Day theme #InspireInclusion offered a moment of deep reflection and an urgent call to stop the violence and abuse that threaten to leave an entire generation of women and girls in Haiti in the shadows, forgotten and alone.  

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


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