October 21 2010
As the school year in Haiti begins, there are mixed feelings of hope and fear amongst organization leaders. UNICEF
reports "some 1.3 million Haitians are still displaced 10 months after the earthquake" and adolescent girls remain one of the most disadvantaged groups due to disparities and poverty.
Haitian girls face structural challenges which put them at risk even before the earthquake. Now, living in displacement camps, they are particularly vulnerable to sexual and other forms of violence.
"The situation for adolescent girls in Haiti has been increasingly difficult," said UNICEF Gender-Based Violence Specialist in Haiti Michelle Trombley, who is leading the organizations response to violence against women and girls in Haiti.
Judith Bruce, Senior Associate and Policy Analyst with the Population Councils Poverty, Gender, and Youth program says, "The work we have done is showing that most youth programs, in fact, are dominated by older males." She added that this can feel threatening to female students. "Very early on, girls start dropping out and the least empowered girls just do not show up," she said.
In addition, there there is little protection or security in the camps. Trombley added, "There is really no space that girls have to find safety and security or to even talk about issues that they have going on."
To better protect Haitian girls, the Population Council and the disaster relief and humanitarian medical aid organization AmeriCares co-founded the Haiti Adolescent Girls Network. This coalition of humanitarian organizations aims to reduce girls' risks of poverty, violence, and rape by supporting the creation of dedicated safe spaces for adolescent girls.
"Girls need a space where they can go to regularly and reliably, at least weekly, at least for two hours, where they can be themselves essentially a place where they can talk about their concerns and the stress they are under," said Bruce. "The specific theory, with good evidence now, is that girls who have strong friendship networks are much better protected."
The start of a school year presents new challenges concerning girls safety at school, but also new avenues to empower girls.
For adolescent girls, having additional community-based opportunities is especially important. "When you have girls spaces, you can move directly into basic literacy which is often whats missing," said Bruce.
She added, "I think theres a lot we can do with single-sexed opportunities, and a lot we can do from community-based programs."