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  • Lucy Ferriby-Stocks

Gang violence in Haiti: The Weaponisation of women, The Forgotten victims of war

By LUCY FERRIBY-STOCKS




The lens of gender is critical in the study of international security. Without it, the specific struggles of women and girls are often unrecognised and marginalised into insignificance. Women have borne the brunt of gang warfare in Haiti, targeted with rape, torture, kidnapping, and killings by the 200-armed gangs present in the capital of Port-au-Prince. With 60% of the capital being controlled by these individuals, around 96,000 Haitians have been displaced, some now living in one of the 33 makeshift displacement camps where these atrocities have been occurring.


The assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July last year led to the surge of gang violence in the country. With no political solution on the horizon, the de facto leader Ariel Henry has called for foreign military intervention. However, not only do civil society groups prefer a “Haitian-led solution”, but there is also great reluctance from Western nations to become embroiled in the conflict. There are several political and military reasons for this, namely reluctance to become involved in a country’s domestic affairs. America and the United Kingdom do not have the political mandate to become directly involved after events in Afghanistan and a significant amount of military aid is already being given to Ukraine in their fight against Vladimir Putin.


Whilst the discussion of intervention is important, what tends to get lost is the people who are living the experience as it happens, especially women. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) provide humanitarian assistance to victims of conflict, natural disasters, epidemics or healthcare exclusion and have been active in the capital, including at some of the displacement camps which are now home to some of the female victims. They have assisted with 14,900 surgical interventions, 7,500 individual mental health consultations and 5,600 births. MSF recorded 32 cases of rape - or other gender-based violence - in just two days in September, showing how engrained this is in Haitian society.


It is expected that thousands of these cases are going unreported every week as women are afraid of the repercussions if they bring this to the attention of the authorities. Increasingly, the young are turning to life as a gang member in order to survive because 60% of the population are unemployed, with 77% of Haitians living on less than $2 a day. Therefore, the likelihood of women being able to report these crimes in the future is diminishing on a daily basis. There has already been a drop of 23% in the number of cases being reported from 2021 to 2022.


Internationally, the weaponisation of women is not given the prominence it deserves, especially in Haiti where it has been used as a weapon of war for hundreds of years. The lack of western media coverage is systematic of a dialogue that has moved away from international development. Nation-states have become more protectionist in recent years, preferring to focus on internal affairs and international events that impact the domestic economy. Global recession has resulted in a tightening of investment in humanitarian aid and development in many countries, including Haiti. The merging of the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office in the UK, for example, shows how development on a ground level is not at the top of the agenda. Aid is by no means a long-term solution in any country. But if it is administered appropriately and effectively, it can change communities and livelihoods, giving people opportunities and freeing them, particularly women, from the oppression and violence they face.


Traditional warfare is associated with military conflict, tanks, guns and bombs - not with sexual violence. There needs to be a distinct shift in the discussion for the situation in Haiti to be taken as seriously as traditional conflict - something as seismic as the discussion in Ukraine. When speaking to Sky News, the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, highlighted the weaponisation of sexual violence in the conflict with Russia, calling for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and MPs to help “find and punish those who perpetrated the war crimes”. It is only when events in Haiti are recognised in a similar way and are treated with the same contempt as tanks, bombs and guns, that there will there be any significant change and meaningful action. Otherwise the women of Haiti will become the forgotten victims of the battle for the country.


Image: Flickr/ Mike McGovern



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