I don't think I need to tell you about the horrors of Haiti, especially now as the media move on to the next shiny object.
Here's colleague Jennifer Wells, there now. I added the boldface.
A man opens his shirt to display a pussing, oozing chest. A young woman holds out her grotesquely swollen foot and says the slight treatment has had no effect.
Pastor Franck Jean holds out the box of supplies he has been given as medical aid: surgical gloves, Hannah Montana tattoo bandages, syringes.
Esther Nelson gave birth nine days ago. She has seen no doctor, no nurse, and when it rains the water comes through her sheet-for-a-roof.
There have been many stories of how the women of Haiti are bearing the brunt of this earthquake disaster. Just last week, the Star's Catherine Porter filed this dispatch.
It's the women who care for the children. And in Haiti, around 66 per cent of them are single mothers, says Carole Pierre-Paul Jacob, one of the country's leading feminists. She has lobbied for years for the country's first paternity law, which would have required fathers to financially support their children, as well as a law recognizing common-law relationships. Both died with the government buildings on Jan. 12.
"We have a saying here: the family rests on the back of the woman," says Jacob, the coordinator to a leading Haitian women's group SOFA, Solidarité Fanm Ayisyen (Solidarity with Haitian Women.)
"This will increase the poverty of women."
By other measures, Haitian women are poor, too. Their life expectancy is only 50 years. They claim the title for highest mortality rate during childbirth in the Americas. Medical personnel were present at only one in four births in Haiti before the quake. That number is likely to drop even further, as the hospitals are still jammed with trauma cases.
And they are regularly raped.
Like I said: horrible.
There's so much written about water, food, shelter, and how the relief efforts are going. Or not.
I read a Medscape article pointing out the extreme risk to Haitian women of reproductive neglect and violence, and the shocking lack of aid to women in these areas despite all our massive relief efforts. What kind of "special care" are we talking out for women? The Medscape article recommended, for example, that all visibly pregnant women should be given a "birthing kit." I didn't know what a "birthing kit" was, and when I looked it up, and found more references online, I discovered that a birthing kit is a heartbreaking collection of items: a ziplock bag containing two clean strings and a straight razor (for cutting the umbilical cord), a sanitary pad, and some cotton/cloth/plastic sheets for dealing with bodily fluids. Could the situation for women in Haiti be this bad, and this badly neglected? Especially after all those hundreds of millions of dollars?
So I decided to ask my journalist friend who just left Haiti a couple of day ago what the current situation there is, keeping in mind that Haiti is a predominantly Catholic country, and wanting her advice on whether it would be insensitive to intrude or make assumptions about issues of sexual protection, birthing, and birth control.
My friend's response by email:
A number of women's groups have expressed concern about the general neglect of gender-specific needs and problems in the relief efforts. Women I spoke to in Haiti were concerned both about sexual violence and the omission of items like sanitary napkins, tampons, condoms etc among the relief supplies.
Women's -- and, by extension, their children's -- specific needs are almost never considered. (And here I am, always complaining about the GST on sanitary products here, as if they weren't a necessity.)
Maybe it's a function of how relief efforts tend to be designed and run by men. Or maybe it's because so many of the charities that get in there are associated with various churches.
According to Gurley's blog post, at least one charity in neighbouring Dominican Republic is accepting donations for female-specific supplies.
Please send all supplies addressed as follows:
URGENT HUMANITARIAN RELIEF FOR HAITI
Ms. Sergia Galvan and Mayra Tavarez
Colectiva Mujeres Y Salud/CAFRA Calle Socomo Sanchez, No 64
Gazcue, Santo Domingo, DR
As Gurley concludes ...
... consider buying and sending a pack of condoms, a Plan B pack, some tampons, or pads to the address above. Sending a Care Package is something that can be done on an on-going basis (hey! maybe every month - a lunar schedule to share your sanitary support!). Besides the heart-breaking issues of human dignity around hygiene products, the last thing Haiti needs is an explosion of unwanted pregnancies, and/or new HIV infections, all for lack of supplies.