On our first day in Haiti, grassroots women's organizations -- including our sister organization KOFAVIV -- stood up in a UN meeting on gender-based violence and demanded that their voices be heard. For months, women in the camps for displaced people have faced persistent sexual violence, and they have found few if any effective solutions coming from the UN. Claims that patrols have increased or that arrests have taken place have paled in the face of accounts from women who have seen little change in the security conditions for the camps. For more information on this, read this recently released report co-authored by MADRE, Our Bodies Are Still Trembling - Haitian Women's Fight Against Rape.
The reality is that grassroots women's groups have been mostly shut out from the process of crafting a response to the real threat of rapes in the camps. Meanwhile, they have mobilized their own solutions, distributing whistles to women living in camps and organizing groups of women to accompany each other to vulnerable locations like bathrooms, where many attacks have previously taken place.
Early this morning, the women's groups gathered at the offices of the Bureau of International Advocates (BAI) to strategize their approach to the UN meeting. They selected representatives of the groups who would speak, and they created a unified message.
Arriving at the meeting -- which was held in French with no translation for Kreyol speakers -- the women did not sit back quietly. Eramithe Delva, one of the leaders of KOFAVIV, stood up and talked about the innovative solutions that women's groups have put into place to counter the threat of sexual violence. She asked where was the support of the Haitian government and of the UN system. And, moments later, the head of the meeting invited KOFAVIV to return to the meeting on gender-based violence next week and do a full presentation.
It's a story of the impact of relentless advocacy. Grassroots Haitian women's organizations went from being ignored to being invited in as central speakers. Now, we need to make sure that this gesture has meaning, and that KOFAVIV and other women's organizations are allowed to make real contributions to the UN discussion and solutions on gender-based violence in the camps.