Our Haiti journey: Extreme needs for women in Haiti

Haiti trip, 5 days and counting (and, can I just say – !!). The overriding question, for me, has become, just how bad is it? There are so many stories – including stories of pressures that are building, like the report that aid workers shouldn’t visibly drink water because people are so desperate (and dying from thirst) that doing so might incite an attack. On the topic of how bad can it be, here’s a recent eye-opener:

I read a Medscape article pointing out the extreme risk to Haitian women of reproductive neglect and violence, and the shocking lack of aid to women in these areas despite all our massive relief efforts. What kind of “special care” are we talking out for women? The Medscape article recommended, for example, that all visibly pregnant women should be given a “birthing kit.” I didn’t know what a “birthing kit” was, and when I looked it up, and found more references online, I discovered that a birthing kit is a heartbreaking collection of items: a ziplock bag containing two clean strings and a straight razor (for cutting the umbilical cord), a sanitary pad, and some cotton/cloth/plastic sheets for dealing with bodily fluids. Could the situation for women in Haiti be this bad, and this badly neglected? Especially after all those hundreds of millions of dollars? And hey, we discovered at our last team meeting that when we fly into the Dominican Republic and begin our six-hour drive to Haiti’s border, if we need anything last minute, we’ll pass a mega-Ikea. So I decided to ask my journalist friend who just left Haiti a couple of day ago what the current situation there is, keeping in mind that Haiti is a predominantly Catholic country, and wanting her advice on whether it would be insensitive to intrude or make assumptions about issues of sexual protection, birthing, and birth control.

My friend’s response by email:

A number of women’s groups have expressed concern about the general neglect of gender-specific needs and problems in the relief efforts. Women I spoke to in Haiti were concerned both about sexual violence and the omission of items like sanitary napkins, tampons, condoms etc among the relief supplies. I know of at least one group that’s accepting donations of items. Pasting below a note I received recently about concerns expressed by Caribbean Association for Feminist Research. At the end there’s information about a group who’s accepting donations of such items.


To all those contributing and organizing relief supplies for Haitians.
Please write about/share information….

From Flavia of CAFRA who is on the ground in Haiti:
The Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action.

Please share the information with your friends in the Caribbean so that donations can comprise some stuff specific for the needs of women and girls, eldery and the diabled.
Thank you very much.

Hi friends:

We have organized an international solidarity camp through which all our supplies are being sent to the Dominican Republic and then to Haiti, directly to the women and the women´s organizations. I would love very much if Andaiye could join us on our team visit, which is currently being planned. For now, our strategy is to reach out as best as we can with supplies being sent from our members everywhere, including the diaspora. It is not nearly enough, but at least we are not helpless when we come across some dire situations. Our strategy is also to hold aid/international agencies accountable, even if we have to shame them in the process. My efforts are not in vain because I now have an interview with a major Canadian television station, so we are getting the news out there.

It is very rough here in Haiti, so I plan to go home for a few days and then return for another week. I am hoping that when our team visits, they will not have to sleep in tents and sleeping bags or wrapped up in sheets, like I am doing now. So I am organizing better accommodation with the help of some of the women´s organizations as well as our members in Haiti. There are some hotels operating but with such a huge military presence, they are absorbing almost every decent living space – not to mention the food etc, to keep them there. When I get back to St. Lucia, I am hoping to organize for some Caribbean media people to join our team when it goes to Haiti. So if any of you have any ideas on how to do that, please advise.

What is most urgently needed is feminine hygiene supplies, including napkins for women who have just given birth, pampers for newborns, baby wipes, rubbing alcohol, bras and panties, including clothes for women who have lost everything. Older men are also desperately in need, so we need underwear for them also. I never thought of some basic things like combs, but some of our youth members have lost everything and are living under tents. One comb was being passed around from person to person. So we need to include stuff like combs, toothbrushes, toothpaste etc. Also it is cold here at nights, so we need little booties for the baby´s feet as well as hats and wraps to keep them warm, pampers and baby wipes. Of course, there is a desperate need for food, so as much as we can get would be welcome, but what I have listed is most urgent. Oh, there are no bathing facilities, no privacy in most of the camps, so we urgently need some feminine wipes. It is heartbreaking to see young girls looking for a place to clean themselves and having to settle for right there in the open – men, boys, everyone in full view.

Please send all supplies addressed as follows:


Ms. Sergia Galvan and Mayra Tavarez
Colectiva Mujeres Y Salud/CAFRA
Calle Socomo Sanchez, No 64
Gazcue, Santo Domingo, DR

I know many people have collected stuff but they have not found a way to get them here in Haiti, so ask them to send it to us and we will get them in, to the people who need it most.

So take a moment here. Can you imagine it? A life where even the basic human dignity of having access to tampons and pads, and the privacy to use them, is no more? Or the horror of facing an exploding HIV-infection and unwanted birth-rate?

If you know people who want to personally make a difference by doing something tangible, by giving a little something to help women in Haiti, consider buying and sending a pack of condoms, a Plan B pack, some tampons, or pads to the address above. Sending a Care Package is something that can be done on an on-going basis (hey! maybe every month – a lunar schedule to share your sanitary support!). Besides the heart-breaking issues of human dignity around hygiene products, the last thing Haiti needs is an explosion of unwanted pregnancies, and/or new HIV infections, all for lack of supplies.

If you’ve made it this far in this article, I just want to say thanks so much for your kind and heart-touching support, and care for people so far away, and so brutally stripped of their rights to basic hygiene and protection. Please feel free to forward this along (or see if a group you know might want to collect a box to mail).

I’ll let you know if this is all a distant, vaguely-remembered nightmare by the time I get there next week. Or maybe even a ridiculous SPAM attempt – wouldn’t that be lovely? Someone wanting to start trafficking in the highly-volatile area of sanitary pad futures? But the bad thing is, I have a strong, sinking feeling it’s neither…

Share in the comments section about whether you think these are extreme needs or not – and tune in for the next in the series to get details about the Haiti trip. If you want to donate for supplies or transport, head over to www.docgurleycom for details underlined at the end of this same article. But if you’re feeling a tad Haiti-ed out and overwhelmed, never fear, there will be OTHER, non-Haiti, fun health topics in the next few days! Keep up on the latest health issues in the news by signing up for a Doc Gurley RSS feed by clicking here. Look for future pics and other articles at Doc Gurley! Also check out Doc Gurley’s joyhabit and iwellth twitter feeds – so you can get topic-specific fun, effective, affordable tips on how to nurture your joy and grow your wellth this coming year.

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