Expectant mothers and street-lighting: making Haiti safe for women

// 31 January 2010

As the recovery in Haiti continues – and the utterly misguided attempts to help begin (or at least you have to hope that’s what that was…) – the aftermath of the disaster adds a new dimension to already pressing issues for Haitian women, as Kate Akhtar, Emergency Programme Officer for CARE International, explains:

The disaster is having a huge impact on women, especially pregnant women. At least 10,000 pregnant women will need delivery services in the coming month and 1,500 of them will need care for life-threatening complications during delivery. With limited or no access to health facilities, pregnant women are at an even greater risk of complications and death related to pregnancy and childbirth.

Haiti already has the highest rate of maternal death in the region: 670 deaths per 100,000 live births. In general, approximately 15% of all pregnant women will experience a complication requiring medical interventions. This is even worse in a disaster situation.

To help meet the specific needs of pregnant women, new mothers and children, CARE is focusing on the following as part of its immediate emergency response:

-distribution of water purification tablets to provide clean water, particularly for pregnant women and children who are particularly susceptible to water-borne illness such as diarrhoea;

-distribution of emergency food rations;

-distribution of infant kits for mothers with newborns and young babies;

-distribution of hygiene kits that include basic hygiene items such as soap and toothpaste, but also sanitary napkins and underwear for women.”

The UN is now distributing food to women only to ensure it reaches families: but this may add to women’s vulnerability when they are already at an increased risk of violence. Akhtar explains:

Generally we see a rise in gender based violence during emergencies such as these as people are often displaced from home (1 million people in this case) and access to basic services such as water and electricity is scarce. Women, as the main care givers in a family, are then often required to walk to the water points or distribution sites early in the morning or late at night and are therefore at increased risk of attack from opportunists.

Things that we can do to reduce the risk include ensuring that water points are in open areas with good visibility and are well lit. In addition, any camps arising from the displacement should also be well lit so that walking to and from water points / distribution sites is less risky.

The worst earthquake to hit Haiti in 200 years has devastated millions of lives. Please support the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal to provide emergency supplies and assistance there. Visit www.dec.org.uk for more details or call 0370 60 60 900.

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