Haitian women fight back against abuses
Rights groups in Haiti hope for passage of new legislation to protect women from abuse, some of which is detailed in a new Human Rights Watch report released this week.
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Judging from the reaction of men to legislation, however, it is unclear whether approval will be won. An earlier bill to hold men legally accountable for financially supporting their children, for example, caused a public uproar in churches and among some politicians who questioned its purpose and intent, says Marjory Michel, minister of Women’s Affairs.Skip to next paragraph
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Ms. Michel and Yolette Mengual, director of the ministry, say they expect similar debates and delays with the second bill, especially since women hold just five of the 99 seats in parliament. “Five people is hardly a voice in parliament,” says Ms. Mengual. “They alone cannot enforce this as a law.”
Empowerment and education
In the meantime, they have worked with NGOs to improve the situation. UNICEF, for example, has funded educational and training programs to empower women since the earthquake. Young students also participate in a UNICEF-sponsored education program with the ministry where they take notes on the conditions and occurrences of violence in tent cities.
“We must start recovery with the economy and education,” Mengual says of the programs. “An autonomous woman is a free and strong woman.” She travelled to New York in March for the launch of a new program called UN-Women. The program provides living essentials, including mattresses and hygiene products, for women specifically in tent cities.
The programs are essential, Mengual says, but one of their greatest challenges will include changing the mentality of public safety officials. Officers at the National Police department are participating in workshops with the women’s ministry and women’s rights groups, helping to raise sensitivity around women’s rights, says Lerebours Frantz, an officer. Police created a special department for rape and domestic abuse victims, focused on recruiting more female officers, and began mapping crimes in an effort to track and prevent incidents.
Despite the best efforts of the National Police and other organizations, however, a gender bias persists and some male officers continue to sympathize with and release assailants in abuse cases, Mr. Frantz says. “Our instructions are straight,” he says. “Once violence or rape occurs, the officer must go, but some officers beat their own wives and girlfriends.”
So women are taking matters into their own hands. Armed with a flashlight and whistle, Carline’s group Kofaviv, comprised of 25 men and two women, patrol the tents searching for wanted criminals. In the past two months, they say they’ve captured two men – one accused of rape and the other of domestic violence – but they fled after police released them, Carline says.
“The police are no support,” she says. “We are our own security. I hope for change with the law.”
Until something changes, Sevet says, she will protect her family with prayer. “The police walk around with one eye open and the other closed,” she says. “Still, I live with God’s protection.”