Six Months On, Women Continue their Daily Struggle for Survival

Date Publish: 
Haiti / America

Living under tents, female survivors of the earthquake may no
longer be openly mourning the tragic loss of their husbands and
children. But as HPN's Géraldine Sainville reports, six
months after the earthquake, many continue to struggle for their
daily survival.

Sitting on a rickety chair wedged between rows of tightly packed
shelters, Stalia is doing the daily chore of washing clothes.
Despite the shade, sweat drips from her young but prematurely
weathered face. With a faint smile, this mother of three talks of a
life of discomfort and at times distress living among 47,000 other
homeless people in an overcrowded camp set up in the neighbourhood
of Carrefour, which sprawls south of the capital

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target="" title="">Migration Summer 2010

"I always feel ill at ease, living with no privacy, no respect",
says Stalia. "My life has changed for the worse" .

Cooking utensils piled up high in a nearby washbasin are proof
of the tough conditions in which this 30 year old mother and her
three children are forced to live.

"Another family lives in this shack," says Stalia, pointing to a
shelter patched up with sheets of plastic pitched in the middle of
the recreation area of Carrefour camp.

Living in the cramped and overcrowded conditions, women have to
face daily risks. Despite efforts deployed by IOM and other
organisations working on water and sanitation issues, an
overwhelming majority of displaced women continue to lack access to
areas which protect their privacy. Similarly, women continue to
plead for more latrines dedicated to the camp's female residents,
as a way to reduce chronic violence against women.

"The latrines are in a terrible state", says 27 year old
Farvenise who is busy braiding her grandmother's white hair. "The
toilets are full of mosquitoes and cockroaches".

More than 1,000 camps have been set up in and around
Port-au-Prince, many with inadequate sanitation. Overcrowding
breeds violence and increases health risks, especially among

"The living conditions are deplorable overall", says Yolette
Mengual from Haiti's Ministry for the Status of Women and Women's
Rights. "Some camps continue to be plagued with water and
sanitation problems. As a result, 80% of women in camps suffer from
vaginal infections".    

Efforts are being deployed by the Ministry in partnership with
humanitarian organizations to improve sanitary conditions in the
camps and a mobile unit has been set up to help women in camps.

Violence against displaced women is also rampant in camps and
spontaneous settlements.

"Overcrowding and poor living conditions are conducive to
violence against women, including rape", says Myriam
Espérance, who works for the local NGO Réseau des
Femmes pour Gagner. Present in three camps, this grassroots NGO
based in the neighbourhood of Martissant, provides support to
victims of sexual violence.

It also seeks to raise awareness in the camps. "Despite on-going
efforts, much more needs to be done", says Myriam

IOM's Camp Management Operations and Health Unit also play an
important role in helping and referring victims of sexual violence
to partners in the protection cluster providing victim support and
follow up services.

The Camp Coordination and Camp Management Cluster (CCCM) keeps a
confidential record of all sex crimes, which is shared with
appropriate partners to make sure the needs of victims are met.

IOM's medical and psychosocial teams are part of a network that
provides psychosocial support to victims in 21 camps and in the
psychiatric hospital of Beudet.

IOM also supports the training of psychosocial caseworkers among
the humanitarian community as well as camp managers, regarding
follow-up mechanisms for victims of sexual violence.

As part of this initiative, data on sexual violence is compiled
with a view to map areas experiencing high rates of violence. The
information collected, which is shared with the UN police and the
Joint Operations Task Force is essential to set up adequate
protection, support and referral services and further advocacy
efforts to try and limit violence and abuse against women.

On an operational level, IOM's site planning teams continue
their efforts to make sure separate toilet and shower facilities
are set up to mitigate risks to women and girls. Improving the
current living conditions in camps is an important step forward.
However, women's associations in Haiti believe a lot more needs to
be done to eradicate this crime.

© IOM 2010 (Photo: Jared Bloch)