A year on: Four year old girls raped in Haiti

January 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s hard to believe. As if there wasn’t enough heartache already in the country following the earthquake a year ago which is believed to have left more than 300,000 people dead, there are still a million people displaced, homeless, and relying on  NGOs to support them as they live under tents and tarpaulins. According to those in the country, reconstruction has barely begun.

 And then the cholera outbreak began. Followed by a disputed presidential election. And scenes of political unrest.

 But the reports of rape in the country break the heart. This morning there were stories on the radio of raped women, and girls as young as four and five being raped in the chaos, and the stories brought me to tears amid descriptions of normal structures breaking down in communities.

 There are reports of women fleeing into the countryside. Raped in the earthquake ruins. Taken away as “servants” for “work” (inverted commas due to the lack of payment involved – “slaves” might be a better word) Children as young as four and five being raped.

The situation was not great for women before the disaster. Rape was only officially recognised as a crime in 2005, and domestic violence was a long-standing problem. The earthquake fallout is running the risk of reversing progress that had been made.

 As the New York Times reports: “Marie Cluade Pierre was sad even before the earthquake. She is sadder now.”

 After a year of horrors, there is little to celebrate. The country is on a knife-edge – the only real question really is whether the balance has already tipped over. After all, many people will be wondering just how it can get worse.

Fabienne Jean in Haiti : Damon Winter/The New York Times

 But there are stories out there to inspire. One example to celebrate is the story of Fabienne Jean, a young dancer who lost her leg in the earthquake. Now walking on a prosthetic leg, she is starting to dance – only a little, and she is realistic about the fact that she will never be a professional performer again. But plans must be re-dreamed, and she is hoping to open a dance school, or a fashion boutique.

Equally, the work of “Eternal Optimist” Cameron Sinclair and his Architecture for Humanity,  planning the rebuilding of the country – to name but one of hundreds of devoted individuals working to help stabilise the situation and provide a safer future. After all, solid bricks and mortar are the first practical protection for women at risk.

 And read the story of Rea, one incredible woman who rebuilt her school literally from the ruins, and even started a micro-credit facility for women  

It’s a sobering fact, but natural disasters are almost always worst for women. As the Haitian example proves, women are not safe in refugee camps, or living without protection. Their children are not safe. Medical care for pregnant women is very limited. There are scores of women who are forced into the Dominican Republic and trafficked into the sex trade.

Everyone can help and make some difference. Everyone, whoever or wherever you are. Let’s do our best to make this year the year of reconstruction that should have begun in 2010.

Femme fatale – French women await true equality

November 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

A very interesting video report from the New York Times looks at the role of women in the country in the 21st century, and says that despite many women’s empowerment French women are still awaiting true equality. Although French woman have a lot of legislation ensuring their equality, and a package of benefits for working mothers that would make families around the world green with envy, there is still patches of deep inequality.

Politics is one – only 20% of the National Assembly are women, despite laws which are designed to penalise parties which fail to balance equally male and female member. Business is another – women are paid 26% less than men, and only 15% of top compnay board room seats are held by women.

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