Choose a news category:

Ensuring Haitian Women's Participation and Leadership in All Stages of National Relief and Reconstruction: Executive Summary

Posted on: Monday, April 5, 2010

Keywords: Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Haiti, Latin America and Caribbean, Earthquake, Human Rights Advocacy, Emergency Relief

The Executive Summary of "Ensuring Haitian Women's Participation and Leadership in All Stages of National Relief and Reconstruction," a Gender Shadow Report in response to the 2010 Haiti Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA).


Haiti at a Crossroads

On January 12, 2010 the worst earthquake in 200 years struck Haiti causing catastrophic destruction in the hemisphere’s poorest country. The quake struck near the capital of Port-au-Prince, the most densely populated part of Haiti. The death toll has been estimated at over 200,000.

In fact, Haiti was devastated even before the earthquake struck. Nearly 80 percent of Haitians live in extreme poverty, and more than half suffer from malnutrition.1 Unemployment is a staggering 70 percent, and tens of thousands of people die each year from preventable illnesses related to a lack of clean water.2 Average life expectancy at birth is only 50 years, and one in 16 women faces a lifetime chance of dying during childbirth.3 

These grim indicators stem from policies—many implemented at the insistence of donor countries—that have propelled poverty, social inequality and environmental destruction in Haiti. These policies have enabled the richest one percent of the population to control nearly half of the country's wealth; and have rendered the agricultural nation of Haiti dependent on importing half of all its food—the highest percentage in the hemisphere. The women of Haiti, who are both over-represented among the poor and responsible for meeting the basic needs of the vast majority of the population, have suffered disproportionately in this policy environment.

Today, as the international community pursues recovery for Haiti, the country is at a crossroads. It could recreate the status quo ante of widespread misery or rebuild in ways that promote human rights and sustainable development, including much-needed resiliency to disaster. Realizing the latter vision requires, above all, that Haitian women’s and grassroots organizations participate effectively and play leadership roles in ongoing relief and reconstruction processes. It is these organizations that represent the majority of the population and those most deeply impacted by the disaster.

The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment

This report was written in consultation with a coalition of women from diverse backgrounds working both in grassroots communities in Haiti, and in the international arena.  To be released on the same day as the Haiti Donors’ Conference being held at United Nations Headquarters, it highlights gender concerns absent from Haiti’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA), the operative blueprint for Haiti’s reconstruction. The report offers donors, international agencies and other stakeholders human rights-based policy guidelines to promote and protect the rights of Haitian women.

Although the PDNA is comprised of eight themes: governance, environment, disaster risk and management, social sectors, infrastructure, territorial development, production sector, and cross-cutting sector (including gender, youth, culture, social protection), only one theme (cross-cutting sector) peripherally addresses gender.

Territorial Development, Production Sector, Environment and Disaster Risk Management: Haiti’s population is in a self-perpetuating cycle of extreme poverty caused by and contributing to the rapid deterioration of its natural environment.4 Clearing trees to make charcoal, the main source of fuel in the country, is a way of survival in extreme poverty. Nearly 85% of the country is mountainous—the majority of which has lost its fertile soil due to erosion.5 

More than half of all Haitians depend on agriculture for their livelihood, with women providing most of the labor for subsistence agriculture. Yet, the challenges of production in key sectors, including agriculture, livestock, fisheries and food, are many.6

The promotion of sustainable agriculture is of critical importance to Haiti’s recovery. Investing in ecologically sound agriculture must be paired with policies that promote local products designed for the local market, vs. export, would help Haitian women farmers and vendors build on the expertise they have in agriculture and marketing. Such projects would help create food security and income for rural families. Many of these projects benefit women, who bear more of the labor burden in the agricultural economy.

Governance, Infrastructure, Social Sectors and Cross-Cutting Sector: The earthquake devastated Haiti’s frail infrastructure, including housing, public buildings, main roads, and the port and airport of Port-au-Prince. The disaster worsened already inadequate and inequitable access to basic social services throughout Haiti.7 It also created a severe lack of safety and security—especially for those living in camps8—exacerbating the already grave problem of sexual violence.9 

Reconstruction programs must seek to remedy past gender inequalities in Haitian public institutions, and increase women's participation in the public sector and in governance. Large-works projects aimed at rebuilding national infrastructure must consider the needs of women as heads of households and caretakers for families.  Efforts must be made to identify and reserve jobs in areas of administration and management for women, and to offer training to women who seek employment in gender non-traditional jobs. Furthermore, Haitian authorities must immediately prioritize strengthening security in camps. In the long term, a key to protecting Haitian women and girls’ rights is strengthening and expanding the capacity of local women’s organizations so that they can lead the effort to end violence.

Why Haitian Women's Participation is Critical

Women in Haiti are disproportionately impacted by the earthquake, both because they face gender discrimination, exposing them to higher rates of poverty and violence; and because they are responsible for meeting the needs of the most vulnerable, including infants, children, the elderly and the thousands of newly disabled people.10     

Women’s full participation and leadership in all phases of the reconstruction of Haiti (as mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 132511 and other internationally recognized standards) requires that a gender perspective be integrated into ongoing discussions and planning.12 Such a human rights-based approach is mandated by international law and crucial to rebuilding Haiti on a more sustainable, equitable and disaster-resilient foundation.13

To overcome discrimination and to fulfill their roles as primary caregivers, Haitian women require and are legally entitled to a policy architecture that upholds the full range of their human rights, including social and economic rights. Women’s leadership and care-giving work should be recognized and supported by policy and program mandates and transparent resource commitments that enable women to play meaningful, sustained and formal roles in all stages of the relief and recovery process.


We applaud the actions of donor States to assist the people of Haiti in this time of crisis, and present the following principles to help guide governments, international organizations, and other stakeholders in providing for the protection and promotion of women’s human rights in the reconstruction plan for Haiti. Because disasters amplify existing social inequalities, a gender perspective is critical to avoid recovery policies that inadvertently reproduce discrimination against women.14 Our detailed recommendations highlighted throughout the report provide specific guidance on ensuring women’s rights to participation and consideration in these processes.

We respectfully remind donor governments of their obligation to ensure that policies are non-discriminatory in outcome as well as intent. The UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement15 call on governments to consult with Haitian women and ensure their participation in decisions that impact their lives.  Effective consultations enable participants to actually influence outcomes and are anchored in formal partnerships with Haitian women's groups (particularly local grassroots groups), who are empowered and resourced to take public leadership in the process of reconstruction.16

The Donors' Conference must ensure Haitian women’s effective participation and leadership in all stages of the National Relief and Reconstruction Plan by implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, including:

Participation17: Haitian women are both disproportionately impacted by the crisis and key to their country’s recovery. Haitian women’s organizations should therefore be consulted and included in needs and damage assessments, and the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all relief and reconstruction programs, particularly aid delivery. Grassroots women must be materially compensated for time spent working on relief and recovery efforts and offered childcare, transportation and other support to enable their full and equal participation.

Non-discrimination18: Reproductive health services must be provided to women and measures to protect women from sexual violence must be implemented. These include safe access to storm-resistant temporary shelters, adequate street lighting and safe spaces where women and LGBTI people can organize and access culturally appropriate psychological counseling and other needed services. Communities must be rebuilt in ways that are safe and inclusive of women and uphold women’s property rights.

Capacity Development19: Provide resources and facilitate technical assistance for women’s organizations to rebuild and enhance their capacity. Such programs should meet needs identified by women’s organizations themselves and be implemented by grassroots and other women’s groups when feasible. Economic recovery programs must be geared towards women who work in the informal sector and who are single heads of households, offering them a full range of training, credit and business support services.

Accountability20: In order to ensure accountability, it is critical to establish fair and transparent accountability systems with the active engagement of all sectors of Haitian government and civil society, including women’s groups. Accountability is crucial to fulfilling national and international gender equality commitments made by Haiti at all levels of governance and reconstruction efforts. Reform aid mechanisms, consistent with Haitian sovereignty, to strengthen democratic governance and build the national economy to reflect the rights and priorities of Haiti’s poor majority.  

Transparency21: Every new pledge toward the recovery and reconstruction of Haiti should require that international assistance to Haiti’s public and private realms integrate gender equality issues and concerns including through the participation of women in the decision-making processes relating to the distribution of international financial assistance.  Governments and aid agencies should provide funding and training to enable women’s organizations themselves to develop mechanisms to hold governments and non-state actors accountable to their commitments. Such aid must also require open and transparent systems of accountability, so that the implementation of the commitment to gender equality may be monitored.

We call upon donor governments to affirm these principles and follow the report recommendations in the planning for Haiti’s national relief and reconstruction throughout the PDNA process and beyond.  



  1. MADRE,
  2. Id.
  3. World Health Organization,
  4. Konbit Pou Ayit, a Haitian NGO engaged in coalition-building and direct assistance for the environment,
  5. Id.
  6. Newsweek, Devastation in Haiti: The Looming Threat, (Jan 25, 2010),
  8. Id. at 7. Human rights advocates living in the camps have documented rising numbers of rape. Michelle Faul, Rape in Haiti: Women, Girls Detail Violent Attacks in Aftermath of Haiti Earthquake, Assoc. Press (Mar.16, 2010).
  10. See, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: THE RIGHT OF WOMEN IN HAITI TO BE FREE FROM VIOLENCE AND DISCRIMINATION; Doc. OEA/Ser.L/V/II Doc 64 (Mar. 10 2009).
  11. UN Security Council Resolution 1325, S/Res/1325 (Oct. 31, 2000) (emphasizing the need for women’s “equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security”).
  12. e.g., UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, UN Doc. E/CN.4/1998/53/Add.2 (Feb. 11 1998); G.A. Res. 58/214, U.N. Doc. A/RES/58/214 (Feb. 27, 2004); Accra Agenda for Action (2008), available at mdtf/docs/Accra-Agenda-for-Action.pdf.
  13. See, e.g., Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, (Principle 4), UN Doc. E/CN.4/1998/53/Add.2 (Feb. 11 1998); Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Gender Equality (OECD): EMPOWERING WOMEN SO THAT DEVELOPMENT IS EFFECTIVE (2009); Accra Agenda for Action supra note 2.
  14. See supra, note 3; OXFAM International, Briefing Note: The Tsunami's Impact on Women (2005) (explaining women’s special vulnerability during and after natural disasters).
  15. Supra note 2.
  16. One methodology is available in the UNCHR Toolfor Participatory Assessment in Operations, available at, . 
  17. Principles 7, 18(3) and 23 supra note 2; also reflected in the Accra Agenda for Action, 21(b) supra note 2.
  18. Principles 4, 11(2)(a); 19(2) supra note 2.
  19. Principles 4(2), 18, 22, 23(3), 28, 29, supra note 2; also reflected in the Accra Agenda for Action, supra note 2.
  20. Principle 27; also reflected in the Accra Agenda for Action, supra note 2.
  21. Id.

« Back to "Press Room" Next Article »

Article Tools
Increase Font Decrease Font Reset Font Print Page Email Page


"Press Room" Home November 2014 October 2014 September 2014 August 2014 July 2014 June 2014 May 2014 April 2014 March 2014 February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 June 2007 May 2007 April 2007 March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006 July 2006 June 2006 April 2006 March 2006 January 2006 December 2005 November 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 April 2005 March 2005 November 2004 October 2004 April 2004 March 2004 January 2004 December 2003 October 2003 September 2003 June 2003 April 2003 January 2003 September 2002 June 2002 January 2002 November 2001 October 2001 September 2001 August 2001 January 2001


Kat Noel, Website & Media Coordinator
PHONE: +1 212 627 0444

To sign up to receive MADRE media alerts, click here.

Bring MADRE to You

MADRE & Our Partners Make News