The voices of Haitian women and their families were highlighted at a side event in relation to the Commission on the Status of Women on 3 March, hosted by the Permanent Mission of Haiti to the United Nations along with UNIFEM, UNDP and the Huairou Commission. The panel addressed Haitian women's challenges and opportunities, offering the international community firsthand knowledge of their situation and needs in the aftermath of the 12 January earthquake.
Following an introduction by the Permanent Representative of Haiti to the UN, Léo Mérorès, the opening address was delivered by Marjorie Michel, the Haitian Minister of Women's Affairs. The Minister led a minute of silence in honour of the victims of the earthquake, including a number of women's rights activists who lost their lives, and thanked the international community for showing solidarity with the people of Haiti. She emphasized that the Ministry of Women's Affairs was working to ensure that all government programmes to deal with the aftermath of the earthquake would take the specific needs of women into consideration and promote women's equal participation in the rebuilding process.
Elvire Eugene, Coordinator of the Association Femmes Soleil d'Haiti (AFASDA), described some of the challenges that women and girls were facing after the earthquake, living in makeshift shelters without adequate supplies, sanitary facilities, privacy or security. She stressed that the goal was to rebuild Haiti with a new commitment to the principles of human rights and equality. To that end, the work of women's organizations must be strengthened, as well as collaboration with international organizations, including UNIFEM.
Colette Lespinasse, Director of the Groupe d'Appui aux Rapatries et Refugies (GARR), pointed to the fact that over 40 percent of households in Haiti are headed by single women and that women play a key role in providing for their families and caring for dependents. Therefore, the lack of adequate food, shelter and security affected them disproportionally. She expressed concern about the protection of orphaned children, who were at risk of being sold into forced work or prostitution, especially girls. Another challenge was the increased risk of sexual violence and the lack of institutional structures to address it, as well as the lack of services for women survivors of violence.
Flavia Cherry, Interim Chairperson of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA), described difficult conditions in hospitals that lacked refrigeration and medicine. She highlighted the issue of maternal health, as pregnant women had in many cases been turned away from hospitals and had no option but to give birth in the temporary shelters. However, she stressed that the positive aspects should not be forgotten. For example, it had been amazing for her to see women organize themselves in the camps to coordinate aid distribution and security arrangements. Haitian women were incredibly resilient and were doing their best to cope with the difficult circumstances and assist each other.