Banging the gender drum for Haiti’s women: Can it ever do any good

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL November 2, 2013
flamboyant tree

The flamboyant tree is to be seen everywhere in Haiti

I’ve always wondered how anyone, man or woman, can write such a sentence. Is it not exceedingly sexist?

“Haitian women were disproportionately affected by the earthquake that shook Haiti almost four years ago and its aftermath.”

If I were a man, I’d probably be wondering why a natural calamity that affected everyone could be said to “disproportionately” affect women, who are just half of society. As a woman, I wonder why I could be said to feel more pain than my husband or father or brothers over dead or disabled family and friends, lost prospects, and the sorry situation, post-quake.

Of course, women are more vulnerable in many ways and there are some very good arguments about how women are/were disproportionately affected. For instance, poor lighting in displaced people’s camps led to a higher incidence of rape. According to some accounts, Haitian men’s sense of impotence in the face of a simply horrific event provoked greater violence towards women. And so on and so forth.

But in general, it is hard not to be leery about attempts to tick a gender-empowerment box at every stage of building a country back up from the very bottom. Afghanistan is a case in point. International donors have spent millions on gender-sensitive training, programmes of all sorts and projects of every scale and intensity. But it is only from within itself that any culture can evolve to find its better self. Or to be the best it can be.

Anyway, the sentence quoted at the top is from a Huffington Post piece on Gender Action’s new report “Building Back by Half? Gender Issues in IFI Investments in Post-earthquake Haiti“. It was written by a woman. The piece says that Gender Action “analyzed Haitian aid operations of two key donors, the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank …(and found) that women’s concerns are still fractionally addressed in post-earthquake aid to Haiti. Nor do women themselves actively participate as project ‘beneficiaries’. Nearly gender-blind development and reconstruction aid in Haiti (and everywhere) is neither effective nor equitable.”

Some might argue that post-quake aid to Haiti hasn’t worked for anyone, irrespective of gender. Isn’t that what the chief caterwauling is about?