One year after the earthquake, women in Haiti continue to face severe hardships

On August 14, 2021, an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale struck Haiti's southern peninsula. According to the latest report published by the Haiti Civil Protection, the earthquake caused 2,248 deaths, more than 12,763 injured, 329 houses damaged, 53,815 homes destroyed, the affected population is 690,000 people, and more than 650,000 people are in need. The most affected regions were Grande-Anse, Nippes, and, particularly, Les Cayes.  

Among the victims were thousands of women and girls. The earthquake increased the suffering of women and their families. The tragedy came five years after Hurricane Matthew brought the Grand Sud to its knees in 2016 and 11 years after the 2010 earthquake devastated the country.


Photos: ©UNICEF / Rouzier, WFP/Marianela González, ©UNICEF/Harry Rouzie

Before the catastrophe, Haiti was already experiencing political and socio-economic turmoil that led to widespread insecurity and a prolonged fuel shortage, coupled with the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic. As a result of the health, social and economic emergency generated by COVID-19, Haitian women have experienced significant setbacks in their autonomy. According to the rapid gender assessment conducted between June and July 2020 by UN Women and Care International, 24% of women in the country have lost their jobs, compared to 15% of men. This means that women will see their unemployment rate increase from 16% (before COVID 19) to 39%. Violence has also been another negative effect on women, with an increase in gender-based violence, with a 40% increase in reported cases. Regarding maternal health and sexual and reproductive rights, at the COVID 19 peak, 47.8% of women had no access to any of these services.    

To this scenario must be added the violent clashes between gangs, which culminated in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7 of the same year, a month before the devastating earthquake.  

One year later, the situation of the population remains very critical despite the efforts of humanitarian organizations to help those in need. Armed groups fighting each other since June 2021 have seized several parts of the country and are blocking access to the south, making it difficult to assist the population. The fighting has forced at least 19,000 people from their homes and affected some 800,000 people living in the disputed areas. Some 7,000 people have taken refuge in organized and improvised shelters.   

This stretch of road links four departments (Nippes, Southeast, South, Grand Anse and West) and is controlled by gangs. They kidnap, rape, and kill people at will, and it is women and girls who are most affected, either directly or through single parenthood caused by the premature departure of their murdered partners.     

Thus, this blockage complicates humanitarian interventions in the Grand Sud. According to a report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) released on July 8, 2022, insecurity in Haiti has increased and reached new levels since the end of April 2022. This is severely affecting the operating environment for humanitarian actors and hampering their ability to deliver life-saving assistance.  

Armed gangs are present in various parts of the country, both in the capital and in provincial towns. There have been many cases of kidnapping, followed in some cases by the rape of women. This phenomenon has had a considerable impact on the implementation of humanitarian support projects, somewhat paralyzing the implementation of certain planned activities, such as the strengthening and empowerment of women, sensitization sessions, and advocacy sessions to combat violence against women in times of war and natural disasters such as that of August 14, 2021.   

The actual impact of the earthquake on households and livelihoods 

The earthquake destroyed and damaged hospitals and health centers, schools, and other essential infrastructure in the Grand Anse region. Drinking water systems were severely damaged in several communities, making access to water difficult.   

Agriculture and livestock farming have also been affected by the numerous landslides. According to a World Bank satellite assessment, the damage and economic losses suffered by the country are estimated at US$1.5 billion, or about 10% of the country's gross domestic product.  

Hundreds of thousands of people, rendered homeless in a matter of seconds, are now living in a situation of increased vulnerability, which the Government, SNGRD actors, and numerous national and international partners are trying to mitigate by focusing on meeting basic humanitarian needs (health, shelter, food, water, sanitation, hygiene and protection). 


The Rapid Gender Analysis conducted following the August 14 earthquake by UN Women in collaboration with CARE International, UN agencies, as well as state actors such as the DGPC, and women's organizations, identified the impact of the disaster on different vulnerable groups, including women, and highlighted immediate needs. The ARG indicated that the lack of safe drinking water is one of the most severe consequences for women. Following the earthquake, 60% of communities in the three departments of Sud, Grand Anse, and Nippes were left without access to this service in southwest Haiti. As most are traditionally responsible for family care, women seem to be particularly affected by water scarcity. In addition, the results indicate that nearly 40% of women are heads of households, and the fact that they cannot share these tasks further aggravates their situation.

Food insecurity is another issue raised in the report as one of the urgent needs to be addressed. Before the earthquake, 46% of the population had unmet food needs, among which the situation of children, adolescents, and pregnant women was of concern. The earthquake exacerbated pre-existing vulnerabilities. Respondents said they did not receive enough support. The most vulnerable, children, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled, seem to have difficulty accessing the food distributed. 

According to the report, 53.6% of women and 46% of men have already experienced difficulties in accessing health services due to the current health crisis; lack of housing and shelter is perceived by 83% of respondents as a factor of insecurity and increased risk of violence; 79% of the population perceives that women are highly involved in the response process, but 22% note that their presence in decision-making is weaker.  

This corresponds to women's participation at the national level. Women's representation in parliament is one of the lowest in the world. In previous parliaments, women were represented by less than three percent of parliamentarians. Women continue to be underrepresented in elected and public office. Currently, women represent only 27.7 percent of ministers and 2.7 percent of the National Assembly (50th Parliament). There are 0% women in the CSPJ (Superior Council of the Judiciary) and about 10-12% women in the judiciary. One of the factors explaining this low presence is electoral violence against women (EVAW).

A girl attends the funeral of two victims of the latest earthquake that struck Haiti on August 24, 2021 in the city of Marceline.
Photo: Richard Pierrin/ AFP

A devastating outlook  

OCHA estimates that at least 1 to 5 million people are directly affected by the violence in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area due to a lack of access to health and education services and deteriorating hygiene, sanitation, and access to clean water.  

Haiti's number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has nearly doubled in the last 4 years, from 2.6 million in 2019 to 4.9 million in 2022.   

Hundreds of mothers and unaccompanied children, including girls, had to flee their homes because of the latest clash between armed groups in the commune of Cité Soleil in early July 2022. These families and children, who have lost their husbands and fathers and/or mothers, are forced to take refuge in the commune of Delmas in public squares and schools that should reopen in a month.  

"Armed violence has reached unimaginable and intolerable levels in Haiti," said Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Urgent action must be taken to restore the rule of law, protect the population from armed violence and hold the political and economic sponsors of these gangs accountable.

Despite the challenging context, UN Women Haiti continues to support Haitian women. For example, the population of the Abricots commune is being sensitized and made aware of the law on violence against women. Thousands of health kits have also been distributed in the regions affected by the earthquake. More than 20,000 people, 10,400 women and 9,600 men were sensitized to gender and gender-based violence in the four communes covered by the project: Cap-Haitien, Pignon, Ranquitte, La Victoire. On June 25, UN Women launched two new projects aimed at strengthening the capacities of women's rights organizations.    

Other measures taken by UN Women in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that hit Grand'Anse and the South include:

  • More than 150 members of women's organizations have been trained on marketing strategies through adapted packaging. More than 800 women from the organizations have benefited from a set of valuable agricultural materials and equipment to strengthen their production.
  • More than 100 women from associations and groups have the tools and knowledge to negotiate their products on the market and can recover their production to meet other needs.
  • 26 organizations have been strengthened in organizational management and in the management of solidarity mutuals.
  • 10 organizations (solidarity mutuals) received working capital to strengthen their local activities of repaired beneficiary organizations (electricity maintenance, renovation of spaces, repair of agricultural equipment).
  • Acquisition of agricultural equipment for 12 organizations.
  • Purchase of raw materials for two women's organizations engaged in product processing.  

Shortly after this catastrophe, UN Women Haiti, through its civil society partners, had to carry out various activities to help the earthquake victims. And the category of beneficiaries is divided into five main groups:

  1. Raped women and girls
  2. Vulnerable women
  3. Elderly people and religious leaders
  4. Young people (youth movements, school children, scouts, etc.)   
  5. Men (training in positive masculinity)

The different activities that UN Women Haiti could carry out to support women and girls in this region affected by the earthquake of August 14 are as follows  

  1. Social, financial, logistical, and technical support to grassroots community organizations and vulnerable women, including women with disabilities.
  2. Shelter for women and girls victims of violence;
  3. Support (medical, psycho-social, and legal) to women and girls victims of violence;
  4. Training in positive masculinity for religious leaders;
  5. Training in positive masculinity for Men in Action and protection against sexual exploitation and abuse; in positive masculinity for youth movements;
  6. Financial support after the earthquake;  
  7. Sensitization against gender-based violence for school children (Scouts, Red Cross, brigade);  

Despite all these efforts, much remains to be done. Haitian women and girls are the most vulnerable in this scenario of entrenched violence. They are often abducted, confined, and gang raped by armed groups. They need strong support to help them cope with the situation worsening by the day. UN Women reaffirms its call not to lose sight of Haiti.  

UN Women, as a UN entity working for women's rights, calls for help to reach women and girls in the south who are victims of the earthquake, the political and socio-economic crisis, and those directly affected by gang violence in the country.