Among the deceased in Haiti are three feminists who dedicated their lives to working for such rights for women. Myriam Merlet, Magalie Marcelin, and Anne Marie Coriolan founded three of the country’s most significant women’s advocacy organizations. Merlet, former Ministry for Gender and the Rights of Women chief of staff and helped establish Enfofamn – an organization that raises awareness about women through media – was dubbed a “Vagina Warrior” by Eve Ensler, the award-winning playwright and woman behind the V-Day movement to stop violence against girls and women. Anne Marie Coriolan served with Merlet as a top advisor to the women’s rights ministry. Coriolan worked as a political organizer who helped make rape a crime in Haiti. Magalie Marcelin founded Kay Fanm – a women’s rights organization that deals with domestic violence, offers shelters, and makes micro loans available to women working in markets. With these three women gone, there is concern for the future of Haiti’s women and girls. There is still much to overcome in the struggle for equality.
Were these three women alive to help lead the relief effort, women-specific care would be added to the traditional pillars of immediate aid (shelter, food, water, and medical care). Large-scale relief efforts are not best equipped to suit the needs of those left most vulnerable by the disaster – women and children. Women are often the poorest of the poor and have no safety net for catastrophes like this. Because of their roles as caretakers, they have a disproportionate need for relief aid.
Women should be integral to designing and carrying out relief efforts in their local communities. This is what the organization MADRE does. In their traditional roles as caretakers, women know the specific needs of a community: where the elderly live, which households have new babies, if there are disabled people who need special assistance, etc. Not only is this the most effective way to allocate aid resources, but this type of initiative encourages women to become community leaders and is another step in working towards equal political, social, and economic rights for women in Haiti. It is by empowering women that real and lasting change happens.
In the face of disaster, it must be assured that relief and aid be provided to the women that need it most. A dangerous consequence to ignoring the needs of women during a crisis is increased violence and exploitation.
From where we stand…the most critical and urgent issue is what, if any, contingencies the relief/humanitarian agencies are putting in place not only to ensure that women have easy access to food, water, and medical care, but to guarantee their protection.