Haitian Women Are U.N. WomenJuly 12, 2010
This month welcomed the creation of a new United Nations agency for women, U.N. Women, dedicated to promoting women’s rights and involvement in development, peacemaking, politics, and economic activity. This new agency will assume the work of four currently existing entities tasked with women’s issues. The challenge to the U.N. and member states will be to provide adequate funding and staffing to put some teeth (and not just promises) behind the catchy name.
It is without doubt that we need stronger efforts to advance and protect women globally. Remember Haiti? Six months ago the country was devastated by an earthquake of extraordinary magnitude. More than 1.5 million people are still living in tents as the hurricane season approaches. Reports indicate that efforts at rebuilding have been alarmingly slow and ineffective. As reported by ABC News, “The lack of progress is not for lack of funding. Between 23 major charities, $1.1 billion has been collected for Haiti for relief efforts. But only 2 percent of the funds donated to the impoverished nation have been released, and only 1 percent has been used on operations.” Billions of dollars in pledges and donations have been committed to Haiti. At the World Summit on the Future of Haiti held in June, it was noted that so far, Brazil is the only country to have delivered its pledged aid package, and just 2 percent of the aid pledged has been delivered. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon noted, “I would urge that there should be an accountability that when they have a pledge to this money they should immediately deliver this aid. ”
As The Nation’s U.N. correspondent, Barbara Crossette, noted in a recent article, “Women in the poorest countries suffer rising levels of domestic violence — the largest reported crime in countries as diverse as Liberia and Timor-Leste. Neither peace nor new laws have slowed this pandemic of abuse. As refugees women and girls are targets of sexual assault. In Haiti they are raped and beaten in displaced-persons camps where they sought shelter after the January 12 earthquake. A young Haitian woman keeping a journal in a Port-au-Prince camp wrote that the screams of girls and women were heard every night.” It has been reported that 20 percent of the violence since the hurricane have been rapes.
I was struck by the efforts of American Jewish World Service, as noted in a Huffington Post article by CEO Ruth Messinger. They are working with an organization called EarthSpark distributing solar lamps. “One of the unforeseen and inspiring benefits of EarthSpark’s lamp distribution has been a grassroots organizing effort by and for women. Women are now forming safety patrols at night with their lamps, acting as escorts for other women and creating lit pathways to public latrines and washing areas.”
These are small rays of hope, and many Haitians are simply thankful to be alive as they continue to recover from injuries. We should be proud of and applaud the individuals and organizations working on the ground in Haiti and other stricken countries. I hope this day will remind us all of the suffering of women worldwide and compel us to act for the women and girls of Haiti, Kyrgyzstan, the Congo, and countless other countries where women and children live marginalized lives struggling to achieve dignity and peace.
For more information on efforts behind U.N. Women:
Some organizations providing relief assistance in Haiti: