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Many Voices: Combining International Human Rights Advocacy and Grassroots Activism to End Sexual Violence in Haiti

On January 12, 2010, less than one minute of violent shaking took over 200, 000 lives in Haiti and rendered more than one million more homeless. The reverberations of the earthquake are still being felt. Haitian women have remained at the epicenter of a corollary disaster: an epidemic of sexual violence in the displacement camps of Port-au-Prince.

Since the earthquake, MADRE, an international women's human rights organization, has worked with our local partner organization, KOFAVIV, a Haitian grassroots women's group founded by and for rape survivors. The two organizations have implemented community-based anti-violence strategies in the camps and worked to meet the most urgent needs of rape survivors. This short-term action has been coupled with an international human rights advocacy strategy to create lasting change that protects the lives and rights of women living in hazardous conditions in the camps.

This paper will chronicle the advocacy approach behind the broader human rights "Campaign to End the Epidemic of Rape in Haiti." The campaign has succeeded in opening political and policymaking spaces previously closed to Haitian grassroots women activists and generated a landmark legal decision. These advances reflect a model in which the expertise of an international women's human rights organization is mobilized in the service of a community- based women's group. The approach enables international human rights mechanisms that are far removed from the local context to be activated in a manner responsive to the self-identified needs and political demands of women who are themselves the survivors of gross human rights violations. While legal advocacy for human rights is often most effectively undertaken in the international arena, human rights violations are necessarily local events. Crafting a legal strategy that is an organic extension of a broader grassroots political mobilization serves to bridge the gap between the local and international arenas of advocacy, strengthening the work of each.

By Yifat Susskind, MADRE Executive Director

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