Crises in Haiti leave women and girls ever more vulnerable

Widespread, surging gang violence has forced thousands of Haitians to flee their homes in search of safety.

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 PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Even before President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in early July, the already politically unstable Caribbean country was in turmoil.

Last year, it had to contend with COVID-19; Tropical Storm Laura, which killed dozens, damaged thousands of homes and destroyed crops; and intensifying gang violence that has forced nearly 20,000 to flee.

 Conflict and displacement have produced a humanitarian crisis – and a grim set of numbers. More than 4 million Haitians – 60 per cent of them women and girls – will need emergency assistance this year. Last year, gender-based violence cases spiked 377 per cent with 6,500 exposed to sexual violence in the coming months. Nearly 5,000 internally displaced persons are at risk of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV/AIDS. In the next three months, 15 per cent of the anticipated 1,000 deliveries are likely to have complications, increasing the risk of maternal death.

 There is need in all corners: 15,000 require family planning services and almost 3,000 need STI treatment. If health facilities have remained open, medical personnel cannot travel to those situated in affected areas. Disrupted supply chains, roadblocks and security challenges have resulted in shortages of food and medical supplies.

 Caught in the crossfire

 Just like the pandemic, clashes have limited movement and accessibility. Women “are caught in the crossfire between COVID-19 and violence,” said Dr. Marie Deschamps, assistant director of medical institution GHESKIO. “Victims are locked in their homes or temporary shelters and cannot ask for help. Another weakness is the lack of legal support for the victim who tells us that she has been raped.”

 Some are brutalized at the hands of gang members. “Bandits with weapons came to rape us again, kicked us out, beat us,” one woman in the Martissant neighbourhood recounted. “They burned our house, they took everything from us.”

 UNFPA has deployed staff and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. In the first five months of the year, UNFPA and partners have also cared for 1,347 sexual violence survivors (including almost 700 children and 110 men) and managed 6,356 cases of physical violence. In addition, UNFPA and its partners have operated mobile clinics and  provided psychological counselling in the Vallée de Bourdon, Canaan, Delmas 103, Bel-Air, Martissant and Carrefour areas. Approximately 130,000 people, including people living with disabilities, received sexual and reproductive health, family planning and sexually transmitted infection prevention services. Pregnant women received clean delivery kits with basic hygienic essentials and solar lamps.

Once again, the lives and dignity of women and girls are needless casualties of conflict. According to the 2021 UNFPA Humanitarian Action Overview, Haiti is one of the top ten countries in need of funding for emergency response, as UNFPA looks to mobilize $4.5 million (of the total ask of $25.5 million) to continue providing immediate sexual, reproductive and maternal health support and assistance to gender-based violence survivors.