Church World Service (CWS) staff and representatives of Haitian civil society organizations met with members of Congress and representatives of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department in Washington last week to address persistent problems in Haiti two years after the country’s devastating earthquake.
The series of Congressional briefings were part of a Haiti Advocacy Week, co-sponsored by a coalition of U.S. organizations who are members of the Haiti Advocacy Working Group. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, is a CWS partner.
Advocacy week participants made it clear that the situation in Haiti leaves no room for complacency. For the 600,000 and more people still living in camps and even for those who have left, there is still an unacceptably high level of hunger and malnutrition, suffering, risk and insecurity.
One focus of the Congressional meetings centered on problems connected with aid efforts and who was at fault. According to Jasmine Huggins, CWS senior advocacy officer for Haiti, “while it is vital to analyze what can be learned from the past and how aid delivery to those in need can be improved, now is not the time to try to cast blame.”
Rather, she said, members of the humanitarian community must now redouble their efforts, continue support for grassroots organizations that are meeting the needs of the poorest, continue pressing for the release of international aid to Haiti, and urge all departments of the U.S. government to insist that the Haitian government adopt rights-based approaches in their programs, and prioritize the most vulnerable.
According to Huggins, CWS is particularly concerned that women and children continue still to endure hunger and malnutrition and insecurity. “This week,” said Huggins, “Haitian partners told us that women still in camps and those evicted from them urgently require safe and secure housing so that their risk of sexual violence can be minimized as quickly as possible.” Lack of food and employment forces the hungry to sell sex for money to support their families and themselves, she said.
CWS emphasized that women need access to sustainable incomes so that they can take care of their families and so that their daughters don’t have to sell sex to survive.
Colette Lespinasse from Support Group for Refugees and Repatriated Persons said “various ministries still don’t have a plan to house women or consider them a priority. The U.S. government must urge the Haitian government to address women’s concerns in all their plans.”
CWS and the group of Haitian advocates said houses must urgently be built so that women can be safe. Police officers need more resources and immediate training so that they can perform their role in protection. All government ministries need to understand the most urgent needs of women, and foster the full inclusion of women and civil society organizations alike in Haiti’s redevelopment and in their programs across the board, not just in the Women’s Ministry.
Co-sponsors of the Washington advocacy week included Haiti Action Working Group members: Action Aid USA, Alternative Change/Chans Alternativ, American Jewish World Service, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Center for Gender and Refugee Studies-University of California Hasting College of Law, Environmental Justice Initiative for Haiti, Fonkoze USA, Gender Action, Grassroots International, Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, International Rescue Committee, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, Latin America Working Group, Li, Li, Li, Read, MADRE, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.-Washington Office, National Lawyers Guild-Environmental Justice Center, Oxfam America, Partners in Health, The Andora Project, The Haiti Fund at the Boston Foundation, TransAfrica Forum, United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and University of Miami School of Law-Human Rights Clinic.