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Look, listen, talk, act: put an end to violence against women.

Background, External Context

In all societies where basic needs are not met, it is difficult to speak of justice and respect for the rights of the individual. For decades, Haiti has faced many political, social and economic difficulties, coupled with the consequences of natural disasters, particularly the earthquake of January 12, 2010, which devastated the country. In this context, the vast majority of Haitian women live in situations where they are constantly exposed to gender-based violence.

In its many manifestations, this violence is present in the family, the household, educational institutions and health facilities. No place is exempt, and even the most everyday activities involve a potential for violence. Violence can be perpetrated or tolerated by the State and its agents, by a stranger or a relative, and there is a very high degree of trivialization and acceptance of violence against women, which is observed at all levels.

In particular, legal barriers exacerbate the impact of the different forms of violence that women endure. Haiti has signed international conventions--the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action, the Convention of Belem do Para--but as in other countries, the successive governments have not continued to make headway on the actions proposed by these conventions. So, today, the country does not have an appropriate legal framework or a holistic policy that aims to combat the scourge of violence against women. "We do not yet have a framework law that proposes measures aimed specifically at protecting women from violence. There is no protocol for the detection of violence as required by the Convention of Belem do Para. Nor is there a systematic reference system that channels victims of violence to comprehensive services offering resources."

The few services that do exist are offered thanks to the efforts of women's organizations or other institutions working in the private system. For example, in the 21 Douvanjou centers run by SOFA during the day, we documented 1,575 cases of violence against women/girls in the course of 2010.

Of this total, 273 of the victims came from temporary shelters located in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince. The aggression reported was primarily cases of spousal abuse with a high percentage of physical assaults (1,080). With regard to sexual assault, girls continue to be more vulnerable to rape: of the 212 cases registered, 122 were girls under 18 years of age.

However, we should highlight some achievements resulting from actions and networking by women's organizations. Two good examples are the passing of the decree of August 2005 that made significant and beneficial changes in the legal framework and the Ministry of Women's Status and Women's Rights' presentation of a working paper--"Legislative Menu"--to the new Parliament, in view of several amendments to laws in the Criminal, Civil and Labor Codes that actually discriminate against women. However, the proposals developed so far are limited and fail resolve the shortcomings in Haitian law. Advocacy work continues to be an imperative, in the hopes that it will lead to the development of specific laws to protect women's rights.

In this context, despite the growth in the number of reported cases--SOFA alone receives more than 1,000 women and girls every year in its 21 Douvanjou centers--the silence about violence against women continues to be a serious stumbling block. It is important to note that the vast majority of women do not report the violence that they have endured, and many of those who have broken their silence do so long after the fact. Other factors--such as the almost complete absence of treatment services for victims of violence, the lack of a legal framework that ensures respect for their rights, problems of safety and the slow judicial system, among others--encourage women to keep quiet and discourage them from seeking justice in cases of violence. This situation is the same in the shantytowns of Lascahobas, where the Campaign was implemented. Because of this situation, the national coordination agreed to mobilize the population around the slogan: "See, Hear and Act, Let's Uproot Violence to Plant the Tree of Life."

The campaign hopes to contribute to the many efforts of organizations and institutions, both public and private partnerships to combat this phenomenon. Key to these efforts is the strategy emphasizing that the normalization and social acceptance of gender violence is a serious concern. Organizations that have taken up the principles of the Campaign are active either at the level of advocacy, raising community awareness, in service provision or the legal field.

It should be emphasized that, in light of concerns regarding sustainability, one of the objectives set out in the framework of the Campaign involves establishing a support system that will offer women of Lascahobas the opportunity to report incidents of violence, to emerge from isolation and find concrete answers to specific violence. We plan to develop a resource center in accordance with the decentralized intervention strategy adopted by SOFA and based on our approach to work that is equally supported by collaboration with the actors in the communities according to their responsibilities in relation to violence against women.

Proof of Impact

In Lascahobas and Port-au-Prince, the Campaign has had an impact on all the allied organizations whose intervention has had repercussions either at the regional and/or national level. Local organizations are involved in mobilization efforts in their respective areas. As a result:

* The development of a diagnostic evaluation in 2009 and the baseline survey have allowed us to influence community organizations in the five areas of Lascahobas and also to appeal more directly to local actors in the realm of justice, the police and in health and education, encouraging them to confront the situation of gender-based violence affecting this community.

* The actions of mobilization and consciousness-raising, particularly with allied groups/organizations, specifically address the issue of gender-based violence in different parts of Lascahobas influenced by the Campaign.

* The Campaign encourages direct action, i.e., reports of cases of violence exercised against women and girls, as well as social mobilizations against impunity.

* The messages disseminated by the Campaign draw attention to the trivialization of the phenomenon, a matter that was rarely addressed prior to the Campaign. They emphasize that the social acceptance of violence against women is an issue that must be fought, and this idea is already being placed in the center of public debate.

* The Campaign mobilized some 20 agents of change, including young people and adult women and men from different areas in Lascahobas. They proved willing to respect the commitments required regarding their support for the Campaign.

* The Campaign's member organizations are involved in the workshops held by the Ministry of Women's Status and Women's Rights in the context of a consultation process on the development of a framework law on violence against women. This legislation would be an essential tool, allowing the Haitian State to adjust its laws in conformity with the country's Constitution and with the many international agreements and treaties signed by Haiti. In order to guarantee respect for women's rights and the elimination of violence, the legal framework and measures for prevention and punishment must be strengthened, and there must be a commitment to implementing these laws and regulations.


In terms of the direct impact of activities undertaken within the framework of the Campaign in Haiti, we note that:

* About 30 organizations have committed to the principles of the Campaign and are committed to their own actions to draw attention to the trivialization of violence and to encourage their members and other beneficiaries of their interventions to make behavioral changes regarding violence against women. Such actions imply a broader impact of the Campaign in other areas that has not yet been determined. The same is true for the involvement of women's organizations in the coordination of the Campaign in Lascahobas and Port-au-Prince.

* The partner organizations of the Campaign in Lascahobas were strengthened through two consciousness-raising/training workshops on the issue of violence against women based on the Campaign strategy. The participants were convinced that the trivialization of violence perpetuates aggression against women and girls. Some groups have organized awareness-raising activities in their regions, others have encouraged victims to report incidents of violence, and several groups have addressed the issue in the context of their participation in community activities.

* About 20 agents of change have a better understanding of the concept of violence against women and are committed to mobilize against it. They better understand their roles and responsibilities as agents of change and are determined to work on changing behaviors and to be role models in their community.

* Several key sectors have been approached, and they have shown interest in the campaign activities, including local actors that took part in the baseline survey (police, local government, parliamentarians, professionals in education and health, leaders in organized religion and other local authorities).


* The Campaign has a public presence and encourages action to report violations of women's rights and to demand their respect, through a range of actions that include taking a public stand on the gang rape and murder of a Haitian student in the Dominican Republic, mobilization around abortion rights and ongoing advocacy for a law against acts of violence by UN peacekeepers, as well as the recognition of their responsibility for the cholera epidemic in Haiti and demands for justice and reparations for the mostly rural victims.

* The Campaign's member organizations are beginning to be approached for assistance by victims of violence in their local areas. Several women victims have turned to these groups for advice. It should be mentioned that earlier in the Campaign, the organizations had mobilized around the case of a teenage victim of gang rape and successfully followed this case to its conclusion. The rapists were found guilty by the justice system and were sentenced to seven years in jail (November 12, 2009).

* The mobilization of the media and of community communications mechanisms has encouraged the dissemination of the Campaign messages to a wider population, both locally and nationally.

* Women and parents of minors continue to report acts of violence and to seek help. According to data collected from January to May 2011 in SOFA's 21 Douvanjou centers, a total of 777 cases were reported, with 157 of the reported cases coming from the temporary shelters. In Lascahobas, where there is no formal center yet, a dozen cases had been reported by the third quarter of the project. SOFA activists showed solidarity with the victims by going with them to the police and to the courts in at least eight of the cases that have been formally entered into the justice system. They also monitored the cases of two children, one of which was girl who worked as a maid and was twice the victim of rape and the other a 14-year-old girl who became pregnant after being raped by a relative. Clearly, there is a need to establish a center to receive victims of violence in Lascahobas.

* In the case of Haiti, the Campaign strategies and resources urgently need to be strengthened to ensure the sustainability of this important initiative. Violence against women and girls is a social problem with very serious consequences that affect the whole community, and global commitment is required to eradicate it. In other words, we must recognize that gender-based violence is established by the patriarchy and constitutes a social problem of a structural nature. Combating social acceptance of violence requires profound changes in beliefs and attitudes. Precise results cannot be reached in the course of a year of the project but require a sustained process and multiple efforts.?
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Publication:Women's Health Journal
Date:Oct 1, 2011
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