Thursday, February 10, 2011

When realism and cynicism collide

Whenever I wonder if my attitude towards real, lasting changes in the power and status of women is overly cynical some real world event comes along to show that I am not being cynical enough.

Haiti's cataclysmic earthquake killed hundreds of thousands, left this capital in ruins and sent more than a million people into a life in crowded, squalid camps.

It also devastated a strong and surprisingly successful women's movement, which, a year later, struggles like the rest of the nation to recover, even as women are being subjected to horrific sexual violence.
 "We started receiving reports of rapes from the very first day after the quake," said Jocie Philistin, one of the women who run Kofaviv. "At first we thought, this can't be true! But it was."
Whatever 'state of nature' or 'breakdown of civil society' means for men it guarantees one thing for women: sexual violence. Among the ruins of Haiti women are being systematically stalked by gangs of rapists. It matters not if the woman is old enough to be a grandmother or young enough to still be described as a toddler. She is female and therefore the nature prey of men. 

Young women are easy prey for uneducated, unemployed men who populate the camps, often stoned and with time on their hands. They see women and girls as fair game. 
The men in authority are no better:
Many women have denounced camp leaders, always male, for demanding sexual favors in return for tents, food and building materials.
It is sad that I am not surprised to read about what is happening in Haiti. It is sad that I am not surprised that we are hearing so little about what is happening in Haiti. Damage to women, it appears, is always acceptable collateral damage. Protecting women is seldom the first goal of rescue/aid missions and indeed it often the very last. It is only after life has returned to normal for the men in a community that the needs, concerns, fears, safety and health of the women will be addressed.

If then.

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