Women protecting their families and preparing for the future

Published: 21 December 2011 16:42 CET

Women play a vital role in the recovery of families in Haiti. Many find themselves with larger families, as they take in children and elderly relatives, but shrinking or non-existent incomes. Since the earthquake, women and girls are particularly vulnerable. Displacement, loss of shelter, lack of security provision by government, crowded living conditions, and poorer access to medical facilities and economic opportunities have threatened their lives and livelihoods.

The rights of women remain weak and, as such, in the chaos of the aftermath of the earthquake their protection from violence is often overlooked.

Marianne recently received the first of two cash grants of USD$250 from the Red Cross, as part of a programme to support people displaced by the earthquake. She and her husband live in Débauchee, Coteaux, with three other elderly people, including Marianne’s sister who is severely disabled.

She said the money would be used first to ensure everyone had enough to eat, and then the rest would be invested for the future. “We need to make this money last for us as long as we can,” she said. “We will use it for a combination of increasing our agricultural production and buying things to resell. For example, with the first grant we have decided to buy coffee in the high season, and then wait to resell it when there is not as much coffee around, so we can get a better price for it.”

The cash grant, she said, was a lifeline for her and her extended family. “We feel that life will be more comfortable now. Yesterday the situation was bad. Today it is another story.”

Bertha Henry, 17, lives in La Piste camp with her family. A small extension, built by a Red Cross construction team, on the side of her shelter marks Bertha’s first business – a small shop selling beauty products and food to friends and neighbours which she runs after school.

“I started with cosmetics first as I knew they would sell,” she said. “Lots of young women come here to buy soap, crèmes and body lotions. One of the best things about the shop is that I get to use the products.”

Bertha sees the business as something that could grow and help fund her future ambitions, but school comes first. “I would love to grow the business to the point that I could sell food for cooking and cold drinks,” she said. “When I come home from school I eat, shower and then open the business. If I have homework to do, I do it in the shop.”

The money Bertha is saving is already making a difference: “The money is keeping me in school and has helped buy my books. Ultimately I want to be a doctor so I am giving education the priority in my life right now,” she said.

School was also a priority for Marie Bernard, 56, who said the earthquake didn’t harm her physically, but left her financially crippled. She received a cash grant of $125 from the Red Cross. “The first thing I did was to pay off my children’s school debt so they could continue their studies,” she said. “I owed the school money and every day they would send the kids home. They are so much happier now they can go back.”

Marie used to sell food and would like to restart her business, but currently lacks the money to start. The second available cash grant will be conditional on the production of a workable business plan, so with the children’s education back on track, that will be the next priority. “At least now I can get a good night’s sleep. That makes life a little bit better,” she said.