A guest post from Madeleine Rene, who volunteers for the International Rescue Committee in Haiti, educating women on their rights and ways to prevent violence:
I'm a native of Petit Goave, Haiti. I am 30 years old. When I was 12, I witnessed the rape of my older sister, which caused her death. As I grew up I felt the need to fight against rape which was very common where I lived. When I was 18, my partner beat me but I knew nothing about my rights. It was only when I joined (the Haitian Women's organization) KOFAVIV that I overcame this problem. I would no longer accept my situation and I told myself that even if I die my children would live in a better environment.
I feel very motivated to work as an IRC volunteer because it is an opportunity to help other women facing situations like mine. Many women think that men have the right to beat them because they pay the rent and bring home food. I participate in campaigns to educate women about their rights and how not to be abused by men. I participate in awareness campaigns and training sessions for women and girls in the Champs de Mars camp.
We also provide psychosocial support by listening to survivors of violence and helping them to find solutions to their problems. We also do referrals. Women at the Place Petion (Champs de Mars) know about the work we do. They are orphans who are sometimes forced into prostitution. If they experience domestic violence, they come to tell us.
We listen to them and together we create a security plan. Our presence here gives them hope. I get threats about my work from malicious men. They think that we want to destroy their homes and that we receive money from NGOs. So we have to take precautions not to go into areas where we could encounter problems, especially because the men are sometimes armed.
Some women agree with this way of thinking; sometimes when I speak to them of their rights, they tell me that I'm creating problems between them and their partners. Convincing certain women that it's necessary to fight for their rights takes time.
I remember one woman who was in a difficult situation. She refused my assistance and did not want to talk. I thought of quitting but people in her neighborhood told me to insist. According to them, she was a victim of her husband's acts of violence. She was very afraid of him because he was very violent. She could not go out and always stayed at home under his control. So I used a technique to follow her when she went to the market. Later, her situation improved. She's currently an active member of KOFAVIV. I feel good when I see her attending meetings and we became friends.
Several things need to be improved or changed. Most women tell me that not being able to meet their needs and pay their rent is a cause of their problems. They are sometimes forced to remain under the domination of a man who abuses them. Many women lost their husbands after January 12 and were left alone, sometimes with two or three children, and they don't know where they are going to live. Creating jobs for these women would be a good thing as it would give them the power to make their own decisions.
Many women and girls are not able to get an education. It would be useful to think of an educational and literacy project for them. There's also a need to offer girls skills training, such as tailoring. This would help them to earn a living, live with dignity and be less vulnerable.
You can learn more about how the IRC is supporting vulnerable Haitians one year after the devastating January 12 earthquake at Rescue.org/haiti.