When the Authorities Fail: Reports of Rape by the United Nations Forces in Haiti

This week I spent a lot of time surfing the BBC news channel and website for news. I generally stay away from major news outlets in the States due to the overwhelming polarization, regardless of the station. This week was heavily dominated by the cholera outbreak in Haiti, collective resistance against aid and security operations. Violence in Haiti since the January 12th earthquake is a result of a number of realities, frustrations and conditions. Like many acts of violence the element of power is present. Gaining power, building power, relinquishing power; the struggle for power is not new in this context. Using the female body as a medium to exercise and gain power is also not new.

As noted in a previous post, the United Nations Mission in Haiti has been present for 20 years. During this tenure, its relationship with the Haitian people has been rocky (that’s putting it lightly). Recently, Haitians have collectively cried out for removal of UN forces given the cholera outbreak and sheer lack of action to confront basic infrastructure issues. The video below shows a Haitian aid volunteer, Charlotte Charles, giving a passionate and igniting  account of rapes in the tent camps by United Nations soldiers.

The world needs to hear the truth.

Who is telling this truth? After being arrested several times, being attacked in a tent camp while distributing aid and reporting other atrocities to the police; Ms. Charles refuses to quiet her voice. She is willing to die telling the truth.

The world needs to hear the truth.

What happens when the institutions and individuals meant to protect fail and actually harm those they are charged with protecting? The rape of women, girls, children and men robs individuals of their power. When a woman or girl has to choose between eating and rape, the decision is can not possibly be easy. When a woman or girl has to choose between shelter and rape, the decision can not possibly be easy. Power is the ability to act. When your actions are controlled by someone else your power is diminished. Stripping individuals of their dignity and power also strips the community of its dignity and power.

What would you do if you had to make this choice?

The Five Senses, plus one

The Heroes of Independence, where the Haitian Revolution was won.

The city of Cap-Haitien is Haiti’s second largest city and is home to over 800,000 people. Since the January 12th earthquake over 40,000 survivors have relocated here. Driving through Cap-Haitien for the first time was slightly jarring. Everyone seemed to be moving in some direction, where I’m not sure. The unemployment rate is at 95%. The only place I can compare it to is East St. Louis, Illinois. There African Americans face a similar plight with 90% + unemployment rates, poor housing, along with high poverty and disease rates. East St. Louis does not however have the same historical significance as Cap-Haitien, the Haitian Revolution started here. This is King Henri Christophes town. I am surrounded with great Haitian history. But I am also surrounded with the legacy of colonialism, political corruption and deep poverty.

Tuesday morning we went to visit a brother and sister Gaby knew in the largest hospital in North Haiti. The claim to “largest” is not what you would typically think. Words can not express the despair and sickness I saw there. When we entered the compound there were people milling around. Walking up to the surgery ward I saw a small dog laying in the middle of the steps surrounded by people who paid it no attention. The dog looked half dead. The structure is unlike what most Americans think of when they think of hospitals. There was an emergency ward, a surgery ward and separate wards for women and men. However, you will find no receptionist to tell you where to go. You will find no halls and no separate patient rooms. The room held about 25-30 beds all with patients who looked like they were at deaths door. Any patient who stays here must bring their own linens, their own food and basically fend for themselves. I still cannot remove the stench of sickness from my mind. I will never forget the smell of pending death. Now you may ask why I am designating these people to death, I’m not. I did not see one person in the recovery phase. There we flies open air bed pans and an extreme lack of sanitation. The emaciated look of these human beings was stark and it would take nothing short of a proper medical facility to improve their quality of life.

Imagine receiving a blood transfusion in a gas station bathroom. Think of that and you might be close to the reality these patients face on a daily basis.

With most things there is a silver lining. While walking through the different wards we did see several groups of young women being trained to be community health aides. They are being trained to go out into their communities and promote positive health. Basic things we take for granted in the States are not common knowledge or practice for many living in absolute poverty. Just as many of us learned to wash our hands, not to cross contaminate and how to care for cuts, the people in this city must learn too. These things are not just organically learned!

Once we left the hospital we headed to visit with the members the of local womens group, The Association of Valiant Women of Limonade (RAFAVAL). These women are a stark contrast of those we saw in the hospital. They are working to build power for themselves. I had the opportunity to talk to the women and learn more about the issues they face in Limonade. Domestic violence, family planning and assertion of women’s rights were among the greatest. I took some video footage of them singing a song about strength and power, the internet connection isn’t fast enough for me to load. I WILL load it once I get back to the states.

This is my work, to fight for our women- Ernise, RAFAVAL Coordinator (Pictured Right)

These were not women who sit idly by waiting for someone to save them. RAFAVAL boasts a membership of over 500 women from the 3 sections of Limonade. The women meet once a month. They organized THEMSELVES. Sonje Ayiti partners with them to produce and sell Cocoa d’Haiti. I’ve tasted hot chocolate made from this cocoa and it is WONDERFUL. The proceeds go back into the Koud-a-Koud project to help fund more micro-loans. I purchased some of the cocoa today and plan to share once I get back.

We are who we are because of what we see, hear, taste, smell and touch. What we become is because of our vision.

My next post will focus on the concept of vision. I’ve seen the fruit of Sonje Ayiti’s vision and will share more examples. I’m headed to Port-au-Prince tomorrow. I’m not sure what I’ll see there, but I’m sure that it will leave one of the many everlasting impressions I have of Haiti. I am staying at the Haiti Response Coalition house and hope to shadow some of their organizers working with communities living in tent cities. Until next time…Peace

My Body, My Mind, My Womb


(Photo: Gwendolyn Magee, Lift Every Voice and Sing)

I want control over my body, the freedom to decide what happens in there, who I share it with and when I share it.

The right to choose what to do with my body has never really been totally up to me. As a child, my parents made health-based decisions for me. They decided what I would eat, when and where I would receive medical care and even what information would go into my head. That level of control was ok with me, my parents were my primary caregivers and did what they believed was best.

As a woman of color in the United States; my body, mind, hair and womb is constantly under the threat of being auctioned to the highest bidder. Regardless of where you live in this country, women’s rights are hotly debated. Whether the auctioneer is the federal government or the local Planned Parenthood; someone else is making decisions and influencing what we can do with our bodies. For many women, the culprit isn’t necessarily some outside player; oftentimes our partners and friends influence the decisions we make with our bodies.

Everyone has an agenda. The government, faith based institutions and non-profit organizations all have agendas. Those who are champions of women’s rights oftentimes pose the largest  issues for me. I recently viewed a documentary called Maafa 21. The documentary outlined what the researchers believed to be a concerted effort, by Planned Parenthood, to extinguish the Black community in the United States. While this documentary is highly controversial, it did make me think about my stance on the “choice” issue. I’ve always described myself as a pro-choice woman. I believe that women should have the choice TO HAVE and/or NOT TO HAVE a child. Unfortunately, I find the messaging around this issue deeply flawed on both sides. On the “pro-choice” side, the messaging is around our legal right to choose not to have a child. On the “pro-life” side, the messaging is around the moral dilemma and physical act of abortion.

It’s not just about our partners it’s about deciding not to consent through INACTION.

Both ends often miss what I think is the most important factor; the woman’s right to choose even before she has sex. I personally know women who refuse to purchase condoms because they believe the man should buy them. I know women who refuse to explore their own bodies because they believe only another man/woman should do so. I also know women who are waiting for marriage and know nothing about their anatomy or how to protect themselves during marriage (yes DURING marriage). Many of our girls are lost. I worked with teenage girls on the South side of St. Louis. OH the stories I heard and oh…the things they had no clue about.

Educating ourselves and our girls about sex shouldn’t JUST be about the act of sex. It should be about having healthy relationships and engaging in healthy behavior. Sexual health starts BEFORE sex. What we eat, our mental health and what life we want for ourselves affect our sexual health.  Americans focus too much on the act and not enough on the circumstances. Once women collectively deal with the circumstances and have ownership over them, our bodies and our minds we will belong to us. We will have more power and of course…more freedom.