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Haiti Earthquake Relief: Why Give to MADRE

Posted on: Thursday, January 14, 2010

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

In the wake of disasters like the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti, it is often comforting to see big international agencies taking charge of relief and reconstruction efforts. No doubt international agencies—with their resources, know-how, heavy machinery, and access to government—have a critical role to play. But large-scale relief operations are not always best suited to meet the needs of those who are made most vulnerable by disaster, namely, women and their children.

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 of the poor 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 care-takers 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 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. That is MADRE’s model.  We know from experience that 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.  Rather, it is because their roles as caretakers in the community means that they know where every family lives, which households have new babies or disabled elders, and how to reach remote communities even in disaster conditions.

Rather than replicating the work of existing organizations, relief and reconstruction programs should leave resources and training in the hands of community women who therefore become better equipped to rebuild their lives and communities on a stronger foundation.  What Haiti needs most in the long-term is the resilience that comes from having responsive democratic government and vibrant health, education and social institutions.  MADRE will continue to work with women in the wake of this earthquake to build that resilience.


To contribute to MADRE's disaster relief efforts for the earthquake in Haiti, click here.

A version of this statement will appear on New America Media’s website.


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