March 26, 2015

“We are stronger than before."

“We are stronger than before”– Haiti grantee REFRAKA on the Fifth Anniversary of the Earthquake

In January 2010, the world watched as one of the worst earthquakes in history hit Haiti. The disaster affected three million people, killing hundreds of thousands and leaving more than a million homeless. Landmark buildings, schools, hospitals and government offices collapsed, and essential infrastructure was destroyed, making disaster response nearly impossible. After the catastrophe struck, Haitians were wracked by a cholera epidemic that killed thousands more as it spread among the survivors. In the wake of the earthquake, Haitians flooded into cramped displacement camps. At the camps, as is often the case when disaster strikes, the already existing problem of sexual and gender-based violence became worse.

When the earthquake struck, the network of women in community radio in Haiti (REFRAKA) was in its ninth year. Created in 2001 by a group of women radio journalists, REFRAKA sought to promote a more prominent role for women in Haitian media and provide women access to decision-making in community radio. They provided technical training to women in community radio and also content-based workshops to both women and men, the purpose of which was to change they way women and girls were represented in the media. REFRAKA understood that by using community-based radio they could both, enable women in radio and begin to dismantle stereotypes that had disempowered women.

More women are speaking their truth

The 2010 earthquake had disastrous consequences on REFRAKA’s work. The network’s office, equipment and archives were destroyed. One network’s member was killed, several were injured, and a number of members lost family and personal belongings. In a few terrifying moments, nine years of hard work was devastated. However, members’ conviction regarding their work continued to thrive and even intensify. In fact, just three months after the earthquake hit, Marie Guyrleine Justin, REFRAKA’s Network Coordinator, spoke optimistically, explaining that despite horrendous conditions ***“more women are speaking their truth.” Reflecting on the fifth anniversary of the earthquake, Marie Guyrleine similarly insists “the need to face all these difficulties and the will to continue working with women in community radio made us organizationally stronger.”

Though the international community invested almost 13 billion dollars in the post-earthquake reconstruction, according to Marie Guyrleine ‘women’s strategic interests were not taken into account in this process. Women were not able to influence the decisions on how to allocate funds.” The Human Rights Watch report “Nobody Remembers Us,” adds fodder to Marie Guyrleine’s argument, highlighting how aid and recovery efforts failed to adequately address the needs and rights of women and girls. Further supporting Marie Guyrleine’s point, the report tells us the voices of women directly affected by the earthquake had been excluded from the reconstruction process. Consequently, while reconstruction did much to address infrastructure, efforts did not support the need to rebuild a more inclusive and equitable Haitian society and culture.

Reconstruction

While reconstruction did not address women’s needs, it also failed to meet expected growth results. Donors have started to retreat from the country. Venezuela, once in a position to provide financial support, is facing its own economic crisis. In addition, President Martelly has been ruling by decree since mid-January. Though the people are demonstrating against this show of power, it’s impossible to deny—given the financial and political landscape–that Haiti risks slipping back into dictatorial government. And experience shows that in moments of crises, the women’s rights movement agenda is the first to be left out of the public discourse and political debate.

“It is in the context of this dramatic situation that specific attention needs to be dedicated to women and girls,” says Marie Guyrleine. In a country in which community radio is the most far-reaching form of media, it is crucial to ensure that women and girls can take the lead in broadcasting, reporting on conditions that limit their safety and education and changing the way that the community sees them. By helping women claim their own voices, REFRAKA insists that women will play their part in the political life of the country. Marie Guyrleine tells us, “Women in community radio in Haiti have decided to fight to make sure that women’s rights are respected in the society. As long as the network exists, we will continue to encourage more and more women to take part in community radio, engage in decision-making, organise to fight against discrimination. We are more determined than ever to continue with training women presenters and producers of the 27 community radio broadcasters in our network to actively take part in the management of community radio.”

*** (Beverly Bell’s “Broadcasting Women’s Voices in Haiti’s Reconstruction,” for Other Worlds)

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