Haiti: Combating Gender-Based Violence in Haiti's Displacement Camps

Monday, June 4, 2012
Hollyn Hammond

On January 12, 2010 a 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince, killing 230,000 people, injuring 300,000 and leaving 2 million people—almost a quarter of the population—without a home. The earthquake left horrific catastrophes in its wake and set the context for the perpetration of sexual violence against women in the camps set up for internally displaced persons (IDPs). The violence has been called an epidemic, spreading through the camps and ravaging the already victimized women and girls who have survived the quake. Nearly two years after the disaster, half a million people remain in camps that have become breeding grounds for human rights violations. While an accurate count of victims is nearly impossible to attain because of lack of reporting, three times as many women have become pregnant in the camps as before the earthquake.

Why does this travesty persist and what is being done to stop it? The first part of this paper will present the context for gender-based violence (GBV) in Haiti's IDP camps and discuss some of the actions taken by the international community and local groups to prevent and combat the problem. The paper will then analyze the 572 Call Center project, which has emerged as a promising lifeline for women in the camps. The final section of the paper will propose recommendations for prevention, specifically a method that targets men in the camps through sports and “edutainment.” Throughout the paper, the case will be made that a multidimensional, holistic approach is the most effective way to combat the spread of GBV in IDP camps. Action must take place on three levels: to prevent the violence before it occurs, to provide urgent response and support to survivors, and to seek justice for the victims.

Gender-based violence is a violation of universal human rights protected by international human rights conventions. The term gender-based violence, as it is defined in the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, refers to “any act of violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.” An expression of GBV, sexual violence against women, as it occurs in Haiti's IDP camps, is a crime against the individual and an act of aggression against the entire community or nation.2 According to a report published by the rights-based non-governmental organization (NGO), MADRE, rape is an extreme violation of universal human rights and “compromises the ability of women to access the full panoply of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights” (2010:4). For example, a woman who is hurt and traumatized by rape may be incapable of exercising her right to attend school, work, or participate meaningfully in her community. GBV causes a “downward spiral leading to further deterioration of human rights.”

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Combating Gender-Based Violence in Haiti's Displacement Camps