Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and after the 2010 earthquake, which killed an estimated 220,000 people, EU states, banks and the European Commission jointly pledged €1.23 billion in aid.
The Commission’s Department of Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (Echo) alone donated €213 million to the stricken Caribbean nation.
But while disaster relief and overseas assistance to Haiti was desperately needed – and gratefully received – many girls found themselves excluded from the programmes.
Carmel Dorie Barbot, a youth programme manager at Plan Haiti said that more targeting of girls was now taking place but that it often ignored cultural traditions by, for example, organising events on Saturdays when girls helped their families with domestic chores.
“If you don’t specify the broader themes of girls and women they will naturally be forgotten,” she told EurActiv. “Child participation in education has improved in recent years but if you disaggregate the data, it mostly benefits boys and not girls.”
“This is one of major reasons for the invisibility of girls,” she added.
According to Hermine, a 23-year-old Haitian youth representative in Brussels for a week of events called ‘European Week of Action for Girls’, young women in Haiti became invisible when no one asked or cared for their opinions.
“There are two main categories of invisible girls in Haiti,” she told EurActiv in a café opposite the European Parliament, “those that are entering into domestic labour too early and the mentally and physically disabled girls.”
Hermine was part of the “privileged people” in Haiti, she readily admitted; those girls who received the same education, attention and nurturing as their male siblings.
But Haiti is not the only country to suffer from patriarchal habits, which lead to expectations that girls should be seen and not heard.
Around the world, gender-based discrimination is deeply-rooted and often overlaps with other social problems such as poverty, illiteracy, poor health and nutrition, and a lack of personal security.
The EU acknowledged this when the European Parliament gave its annual Sakharov prize for freedom of thought to Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year old Pakistani who nearly lost her life for advocating girls' education in her country.
Around the world, an estimated 66 million girls are still not in school and one out of every three girls in the developing world is married before her 18th birthday. As well as the personal tragedies they often involve, such figures speak of a waste of human resources.
In turn, they are spurring new calls for a gender-specific monitoring of international aid.
“It is important to see how money is being distributed and are we really looking for opportunities to provide funding directly on issues that relate to women and girls,” said Dagmar Schumacher, the director of UN Women Brussels.
‘Gender-sensitise the budget’
“We speak about mainstreaming inequality in budgets but maybe it could be of more benefit if we provided funding on gender equality issues,” she continued. “Do we really gender-sensitize the budget sufficiently?”
To ensure that the needs of girls and women are better accounted for, Plan Haiti has issued a series of recommendations to the EU’s Echo directorate. These include:
- Including different age categories in DG Echo’s ‘gender and age marker’
- Requesting that partner organisation disaggregate data according to gender, disability, minority and other factors which could lead to discrimination
- Increasing the numbers of women among the humanitarian response staff
- Ensure meaningful consultations with girls of all ages by the EU and its partner organisations
- Increase funding for ‘safe spaces’, education and programmes to protect women from sexual violence
The group also calls on the EU External Action Service to sign up to humanitarian aid principles and ensure that aid is not used as a political tool.
Sexual violence in the camps
The gender-specific nature of some problems facing girls and young women in the developing world has been thrown into stark relief by humanitarian disasters such as Haiti's earthquake of three years ago.
“Girls were affected by physical, sexual and psychological violence in the days after the earthquake,” said Vaneca, a 22-year-old Haitian child rights activist. “Very often they were on their own living in camps or under tents.”
“We had never seen such a high level of rapes and sexual violence as after the earthquakes,” Hermine added.
“If you look at the levels of birth after the tragedy, you will see that the vast majority were by adolesent girls who had been the victims of sexual abuse,” she said.
As late as January of this year, an estimated 350,000 Haitians were still living in displaced peoples camps, unemployment was above 70%, and cholera was epidemic.