Providing Gender-Responsive Aid in Haiti

Lucinda Marshall

In Haiti, as is always true in the aftermath of a major disaster, there are urgent needs for medical care specific to women, particularly for pregnant women and mothers with new babies.

This article is cross-posted from Feminist Peace Network.

In Haiti, as is always true in the aftermath of a major disaster, in addition to the
urgent need for what we traditionally consider the pillars of immediate
aid–food, water, shelter, medical care–there are needs that are
specific to women, particularly for pregnant women and mothers with new
babies and the need to address the added vulnerability to violence that
women face when government infrastructures are dysfunctional.

According
to the International
Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women
(UN-INSTRAW) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
:

(W)omen of reproductive age face limitations in
accessing pre-natal and post-natal care, as well as greater risk of
vaginal infections, pregnancy complications including spontaneous
abortion, unplanned pregnancy, and post-traumatic stress. An increase
in violence against women was also recorded…

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…(I)n natural disaster situations and in post-disaster recuperation,
the cases of violence may increase. “Given the stress that this
situation caused and the life in the refuges, men attacked women more
frequently.

Additionally as the MIndanao Commission on Women and Mothers for Peace Movement points out:

women suffer most from the impact of climate change and
natural disasters because of discrimination and poverty. The same
happened to women victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indian
Ocean Tsunami as documented in a report on “Gender and Climate Change.”

Tracy Clark-Flory addresses these issues relative to providing aid in Haiti in a piece on Salon’s Broadsheet:

It isn’t just that women often require special care and
resources post-disaster; human rights organizations say that they could
also play a critical role in distributing much-needed aid. Women “are
central actors in family and community life,” says Enarson, and are
more likely to know “who in the neighborhood most needs help — where
the single mothers, women with disabilities, widows and the poorest of
the poor live.” Diana Duarte, a spokesperson for MADRE,
an international women’s rights organization that has joined the relief
effort, put it this way: “Women are often more integrated and more
aware of the vulnerabilities of their communities.”

Even beyond the initial emergency response, there lies a long road
to recovery that holds other unique challenges for women and girls.
They are “at increased risk of gender-based violence, especially
domestic violence and rape but also forced marriage at earlier ages”
due to their increased dependence on men for protection and support,
says Enarson. After a disaster of this magnitude, there will also be
scores of “newly disabled, widowed or homeless women” in need of help.
MADRE’s Duarte points out that women’s generally higher “level of
poverty negatively effects their ability to access resources to
rebuild.”

Clark-Flory also points to the work of the Gender and Disaster Network which calls for a gender-responsive approach to aid in Haiti and has a wealth of resources on the topic here.

Madre’s Marie St. Cyr and Yifat Susskind offer this excellent view of what such an approach needs to look like in Haiti,

All Haitians are suffering right now. But, women are
often hardest hit when disaster strikes because they were at a deficit
even before the catastrophe. In Haiti, and in every country, women are
the poorest and often have no safety net, leaving them most exposed to
violence, homelessness and hunger in the wake of disasters. Women are
also overwhelmingly responsible for other vulnerable people, including
infants, children, the elderly, and people who are ill or disabled.

Because of their role as caretakers and because of the
discrimination they face, women have a disproportionate need for
assistance. Yet, they are often overlooked in large-scale aid
operations. In the chaos that follows disasters, aid too often reaches
those who yell the loudest or push their way to the front of the line.
When aid is distributed through the “head of household” approach,
women-headed families may not even be recognized, and women within
male-headed families may be marginalized when aid is controlled by male
relatives.

It is not enough to ensure that women receive aid. Women in
communities must also be integral to designing and carrying out relief
efforts. When relief is distributed by women, it has the best chance of
reaching those most in need. That’s not because women are morally
superior. It is because their roles as caretakers in the community
means they know where every family lives, which households have new
babies or disabled elders, and how to reach remote communities even in
disaster conditions.

Moreover, women in the community have expertise about the specific problems women and their families face during disasters.

Unfortunately, in big relief operations, already-marginalized people are usually the ones who “fall through the cracks.

None of this sits too well with the men’s rights movement.  Robert Franklin, Esq. has this to say at Men’s News Daily:

(A)ccording to Clark-Flory, ”women in general will be in
need of ‘hygiene supplies…”  Men and boys apparently will not need
those things.  And “women often require special care and resources post
disaster.”  Men and boys don’t need those things either.  Is that
because men and boys are supermen who don’t need help?  Or is it
because they’re less deserving of it than are women and girls?

First of all, the piece did not say that men and boys don’t deserve
aid, it said that women have some needs that men don’t have  that  also
need to be addressed.  Secondly (having hopefully given female readers
time to pick themselves up off the floor from laughing)–apparently Mr.
Franklin, Esq. does not go to the grocery or drug store very often or
he would know that hygiene is our oh so clean euphemism for sanitary products–oh wait, that is a euphemism too–okay, excuse my indelicacy–it means tampons and pads that women use when they MENSTRUATE
(there, I said the word). As a general rule, most of the people who use
those products are FEMALE.  But if Mr. Franklin, Esq. really feels that
he needs them, I’m sure we can send him a box with explicit
instructions on where to shove them.

As for special care, unless men get pregnant and have babies, they probably do not require that assistance either.

Over at Spearhead
(they’re not subtle are they?), they also object to Gender and Disaster
Network’s “Elaine Enarson (probably a Swedish woman)” saying that,

They are “at increased risk of gender-based violence,
especially domestic violence and rape but also forced marriage at
earlier ages” due to their increased dependence on men for protection
and support.

with this,

So now when men provide women with protection and
support they are suspected rapists, child molesters and batterers? Are
these strange, foreign women more trustworthy than Haitian girls’
fathers, brothers and grandfathers? I try to refrain from inserting my
opinion when I am writing these news pieces, but Ms. Enarson is making
one of the most offensive insinuations possible with the above
statement, and she is dead wrong. It is matriarchal societies where
women cannot rely on men for support in which women face the most
danger.

Really?  Name one matriarchal society where this is or was so.  And
yes, women who are in general more likely to be victims of intimate
violence are far more likely to be victimized when they suddenly become
more physically vulnerable.

International
Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women
(UN-INSTRAW) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
offer this framework for re-prioritizing the way we offer aid:

In the face of obstacles and the needs that have been
identified, the evaluation proposes a series of concrete
recommendations, amongst which are to: improve the sexual and
reproductive health of women and adolescents in natural disaster
situations and in post-disaster recovery; ensure access to
contraceptive measures, particularly condoms for the prevention of
transmission of HIV; provide post-natal care; medicine to combat
infections and post-traumatic stress; provide an adequate response to
cases of violence against women, girls and boys; include the provision
of health and legal services; and improve the security situation of
shelters to prevent cases of abuse of power by guards.

The UNFPA is currently working to rush maternal health supplies to Haiti.

As Bill Quigley puts it so eloquently, we need to:

Prioritize humanitarian aid to help women, children and
the elderly. They are always moved to the back of the line. If they are
moved to the back of the line, start at the back.

There are several organizations that are working to provide aid to
meet women’s specific needs in Haiti.  The women’s human rights
organization Madre is,

working to send support to women’s human rights
defenders. We are hearing reports of a horror that often accompanies
disasters like this – namely, an upsurge of violence against women.
It’s critical that women human rights defenders in Haiti have the
support they need to help survivors and reach out to women who are
trying to keep themselves and their children safe in the chaos that has
gripped Port-au-Prince.

You can make a donation to help their efforts here.

In addition, the U of t Feminist Law Student’s Association reports that,

V-Day is trying to reach our sisters in
Port au Prince who run the V-Day Haiti Sorority Safe House, which
provides shelter to women survivors of violence and their children, as
well as psychological, legal and medical support. While we have not
been able to reach the staff at the Safe House, it is clear that
increased help will be needed for women survivors of violence in the
aftermath of the earthquake. Reports state that over 50,000 lives have
been lost, and that Port Au Prince has been “flattened.”

You can donate to VDay’s Haiti Rescue Fund here.

Commentary Sexuality

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday Must Become an Annual Observance

Raquel Willis

As long as trans people—many of them Black trans women—continue to be murdered, there will be a need to commemorate their lives, work to prevent more deaths, and uplift Black trans activism.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

This week marks one year since Black transgender activists in the United States organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday. Held on Tuesday, August 25, the national day of action publicized Black trans experiences and memorialized 18 trans women, predominantly trans women of color, who had been murdered by this time last year.

In conjunction with the Black Lives Matter network, the effort built upon an earlier Trans Liberation Tuesday observance created by Bay Area organizations TGI Justice Project and Taja’s Coalition to recognize the fatal stabbing of 36-year-old trans Latina woman Taja DeJesus in February 2015.

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday should become an annual observance because transphobic violence and discrimination aren’t going to dissipate with one-off occurrences. I propose that Black Trans Liberation Tuesday fall on the fourth Tuesday of August to coincide with the first observance and also the August 24 birthday of the late Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson.

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There is a continuing need to pay specific attention to Black transgender issues, and the larger Black community must be pushed to stand in solidarity with us. Last year, Black trans activists, the Black Lives Matter network, and GetEQUAL collaborated on a blueprint of what collective support looks like, discussions that led to Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“Patrisse Cullors [a co-founder of Black Lives Matter] had been in talks on ways to support Black trans women who had been organizing around various murders,” said Black Lives Matter Organizing Coordinator Elle Hearns of Washington, D.C. “At that time, Black trans folks had been experiencing erasure from the movement and a lack of support from cis people that we’d been in solidarity with who hadn’t reciprocated that support.”

This erasure speaks to a long history of Black LGBTQ activism going underrecognized in both the civil rights and early LGBTQ liberation movements. Many civil rights leaders bought into the idea that influential Black gay activist Bayard Rustin was unfit to be a leader simply because he had relationships with men, though he organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Johnson, who is often credited with kicking off the 1969 Stonewall riots with other trans and gender-nonconforming people of color, fought tirelessly for LGBTQ rights. She and other trans activists of color lived in poverty and danger (Johnson was found dead under suspicious circumstances in July 1992), while the white mainstream gay elite were able to demand acceptance from society. Just last year, Stonewall, a movie chronicling the riots, was released with a whitewashed retelling that centered a white, cisgender gay male protagonist.

The Black Lives Matter network has made an intentional effort to avoid the pitfalls of those earlier movements.

“Our movement has been intersectional in ways that help all people gain liberation whether they see it or not. It became a major element of the network vision and how it was seeing itself in the Black liberation movement,” Hearns said. “There was no way to discuss police brutality without discussing structural violence affecting Black lives, in general”—and that includes Black trans lives.

Despite a greater mainstream visibility for LGBTQ issues in general, Black LGBTQ issues have not taken the forefront in Black freedom struggles. When a Black cisgender heterosexual man is killed, his name trends on social media feeds and is in the headlines, but Black trans women don’t see the same importance placed on their lives.

According to a 2015 report by the Anti-Violence Project, a group dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected community violence, trans women of color account for 54 percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicides. Despite increased awareness, with at least 20 transgender people murdered since the beginning of this year, it seems things haven’t really changed at all since Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“There are many issues at hand when talking about Black trans issues, particularly in the South. There’s a lack of infrastructure and support in the nonprofit sector, but also within health care and other systems. Staffs at LGBTQ organizations are underfunded when it comes to explicitly reaching the trans community,” said Micky Bradford, the Atlanta-based regional organizer for TLC@SONG. “The space between towns can harbor isolation from each other, making it more difficult to build up community organizing, coalitions, and culture.”

The marginalization that Black trans people face comes from both the broader society and the Black community. Fighting white supremacy is a full-time job, and some activists within the Black Lives Matter movement see homophobia and transphobia as muddying the fight for Black liberation.

“I think we have a very special relationship with gender and gender violence to all Black people,” said Aaryn Lang, a New York City-based Black trans activist. “There’s a special type of trauma that Black people inflict on Black trans people because of how strict the box of gender and space of gender expression has been to move in for Black people. In the future of the movement, I see more people trusting that trans folks have a vision that’s as diverse as blackness is.”

But even within that diversity, Black trans people are often overlooked in movement spaces due to anti-Blackness in mainstream LGBTQ circles and transphobia in Black circles. Further, many Black trans people aren’t in the position to put energy into movement work because they are simply trying to survive and find basic resources. This can create a disconnect between various sections of the Black trans community.

Janetta Johnson, executive director of TGI Justice Project in San Francisco, thinks the solution is twofold: increased Black trans involvement and leadership in activism spaces, and more facilitated conversations between Black cis and trans people.

“I think a certain part of the transgender community kind of blocks all of this stuff out. We are saying we need you to come through this process and see how we can create strength in numbers. We need to bring in other trans people not involved in the movement,” she said. “We need to create a space where we can share views and strategies and experiences.”

Those conversations must be an ongoing process until the killings of Black trans women like Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee Whigham, and Skye Mockabee stop.

“As we commemorate this year, we remember who and why we organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday last year. It’s important we realize that Black trans lives are still being affected in ways that everyday people don’t realize,” Hearns said. “We must understand why movements exist and why people take extreme action to continuously interrupt the system that will gladly forget them.”

Commentary Politics

Milwaukee Officials: Black Youth, Single Mothers Are Not Responsible for Systemic Failings—You Are

Charmaine Lang

Milwaukee has multiple problems: poverty, a school system that throws out Black children at high rates, and lack of investment in all citizens' quality of life. But there's another challenge: politicians and law enforcement who act as if Black youth, single mothers, and families are the "real" reasons for the recent uprising and say so publicly.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

On the day 23-year-old Sylville Smith was killed by a Milwaukee police officer, the city’s mayor, Tom Barrett, pleaded publicly with parents to tell their children to come home and leave protests erupting in the city.

In a August 13 press conference, Barrett said: “If you love your son, if you love your daughter, text them, call them, pull them by the ears, and get them home. Get them home right now before more damage is done. Because we don’t want to see more loss of life, we don’t want to see any more injuries.”

Barrett’s statement suggests that parents are not on the side of their sons and daughters. That parents, too, are not tired of the inequality they experience and witness in Milwaukee, and that youth are not capable of having their own political ideologies or moving their values into action.

It also suggests how much work Milwaukee’s elected officials and law enforcement need to do before they open their mouths.

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Barrett’s comments came after Smith fled a traffic stop and was shot by authorities on Milwaukee’s northwest side. The young Black man’s death sparked an urban uprising in the Sherman Park neighborhood, an area known for its racial and religious diversity. Businesses were burnt down, and the National Guard was activated in a city plagued by racism and poverty.

But Milwaukee parents and families need more than a directive thinly disguised as a plea. And Mayor Barrett, who was re-elected to a fourth term in April, should know well that Milwaukee, the nation’s most racially stratified city, needs racial equity in order for there to be peace and prosperity.

I live in Milwaukee, so I know that its residents, especially its Black parents, do love their children. We want more for them than city-enforced curfews and a simplistic solution of returning to their homes as a way to restore calm. We will have calm when we have greater investment in the public school system and youth services; easy access to healthy food; and green spaces, parks, and neighborhoods that are free from police harassment.

In fact, according to staggering statistics about Milwaukee and Wisconsin as a whole, Black people have been consistently denied their basic human rights and health. Wisconsin has the highest rate of incarceration of Black men nationwide; the Annie E. Casey Foundation has found it is the worst state for racial disparities affecting Black childrenand infant mortality rates are highest among Black women in the state.

What we absolutely don’t need are public officials whitewashing the facts: that Milwaukee’s young people have much to protest, including Wisconsin’s suspending Black high-school students more than any other state in the country.

Nor do we need incendiary comments like those coming from Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who drew national attention for his “blue lives matter” speech at the Republican National Convention and who is a regular guest on CNN and Fox News. In an August 15 op-ed published by the Hill, Clarke has called the civil unrest “the rule of the jungle,” “tribalism,” and a byproduct of “bullies on the left.”

He went even further, citing “father-absent homes” as a source of what he calls “urban pathologies”—leaning on old tropes used to stigmatize Black women, families, and the poor.

Single mothers are not to be blamed for young people’s responses to a city that ignores or criminalizes them. They should not be shamed for having children, their family structure, or for public policy that has made the city unsafe for parenting.

Creating justice—including reproductive justice—in Milwaukee will take much more than parents texting their teens to come home. The National Guard must leave immediately. Our leaders must identify anti-Black racism as a root cause of the uprisings. And, lastly, creating justice must start with an end to harmful rhetoric from officials who lead the way in ignoring and dehumanizing Milwaukee residents.

Sheriff Clarke has continued his outrageous comments. In another interview, he added he wouldn’t “be satisfied until these creeps crawl back into their holes so that the good law-abiding people that live in the Milwaukee ghetto can return to at least a calm quality of life.”

Many of Milwaukee’s Black families have never experienced calm. They have not experienced a city that centers their needs and voices. Black youth fed up with their treatment are not creeps.

And what hole do you think they should crawl back into? The hole where they face unemployment, underemployment, police brutality, and racism—and face it without complaint? If that’s the case, you may never be satisfied again, Sheriff.

Our leaders shouldn’t be content with Milwaukee’s status quo. And asking the citizens you serve to be quiet in the ghetto is an insidious expectation.

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