Thursday brought a new day of engagement in Congress, with both Lousiane and Marie Charles testifying on a Gender-Based Violence briefing in the House of Representatives.
Marie helped outline the multiple factors that have increased violence and rape against women and girls in the camps. Louisiane helped underline the importance of agriculture in creating solutions for women. She made a strong connection between the long-term neglect of the agricultural sector, damage to local markets due to unfair US trade policies, exodus of peasant farmers from the country into Port-au-Prince and increase of unemployment, poverty and resulting gender-based violence.
Our Haiti delegation finished up their DC Advocacy week with a tour de force. The second half of Wednesday’s Advocacy Day brought them face to face with strong allies like Rep. Eliot Engel, Chair of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Congressman serves in a NY district that includes the Bronx, with a strong Haitian and Haitian-American population. As a result, he was very receptive to our own Marie Charles Juste-Luce’s recommendations, when she explained the need to improve the consultation process with both grassroots and Diaspora groups and the need to increase US commitment to the protection of women in IDP camps.
In the Congressman’s own words, “It is good to work closely with the Haitian community and groups helping Haiti,” says Congressman Eliot Engel, Chair of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The bottom line is that we are dealing with human beings here, living in these conditions. We cannot forget this.”
Also during the second half of Advocacy Day, members of our team and multiple other Haiti grassroots and Diaspora groups had a chance to meet for over 90 minutes with the top staffers for Senators Cardin, Corker, Boxer and Gillibrand, each one having a good track record in speaking up for Haiti. All of these Senators serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Staffers explained a common theme of the day: that the US Congress has been waiting for the Haiti election results before they move forward with the next steps of aid disbursement. Louisiane Nazaire responded by encouraging the Senators to not wait to act in solidarity with Haiti people at the grassroots. “We did not just come here to only ask for money. We came here to ask for a change of mindset, a change of process. Haitian peasant movements and women’s movements need to be included in both US and Haiti planning…especially in the National Agriculture Plan…whether more money is released right away or not.”
At the same moment, in another part of the city, Sonia Pierre, Jean Robert Pierre, Marie Andree St. Aubin and ActionAid USA’s Executive Director, Peter O’Driscoll, were speaking up for Haitian grassroots voices while meeting with Russell Porter at USAID. A challenging meeting with sometimes very different viewpoints, the group realized the extreme need to keep pushing USAID to reform not only their contract procurement process, but their entire system of Haitian grassroots and community consultation. Sonia Pierre explained, “Yes, it was a difficult meeting at times, but it was very important that we went. I’m glad that I’m here and could be a part of this.”
Our Haiti advocacy delegation hit the streets this morning…fully armed with unified messages on the reconstruction, a folder full of helpful materials and a renewed sense of energy, community and hope. Our own representatives have done a great job today, with key meetings at the World Bank, IDB and Senate this morning and upcoming meetings with several members of Congress this afternoon. They’ve been working hard! Louisiane Nazaire, in our meeting with Sen. Menendez’s office, the Chaired of the Senate Foreign Relation’s Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, made the following strong statement. ” women and peasants movements need to stand at the forefront of the US government’s planning processes in Haiti, especially on land and housing, which constitutes some of the biggest investments in your foreign aid for Haiti.” Not only did Sen. Menendez’s staffer agree, but she enthusiasticly suggested that we help them identify key grassroots presenters at the next Senate Foreign Relations Hearing on Haiti, later this summer. This was music to our ears!
ActionAid, COZPAM, KONAFAP and MUHDA team, advocating for stronger prioritization on the needs, voices and protection of women and girls in the US plan towards Haiti. They met a warm and receptive office, very thankful to have these important recommendations.
The following comments are from Day 1 of activists from the Haiti Advoacy Working Group’s visit to the nation’s capitol, from the view point of Elise Young of ActionAid USA:
We had a very successful meeting with both Ambassador Veveer and then Tom Adams. GBV, safe housing and grassroots consultation were the big themes. We were very happy to hear Mr. Adams emphasize the US’s commitment to helping to improve protection systems for women. He agreed with Madame Nazaire’s and other participants’ assessment that the justice system needs significant reform in order to process criminals of violence. In Mr. Adams’ words, ” because people who don’t have money in Haiti, don’t have access to the justice system. We must change this.”
Although Mr. Adams had to leave the meeting at the 1 hour mark, our team was delighted to stay for an additional 2 hours, to discuss solid ideas on how to improve the process of direct consultations and partnerships between the US government, Haitian government and Haitian grassroots and civil society groups, in order to improve access to land, housing and security for the most vulnerable.
” I was incredibly surprised and delighted that the State Dept spent so much time with our team and took our recommendations seriously,” said ActionAid’s Haiti’s National Campaign Coordinator, Ghemps Desauguste. “I feel positive that we took the first important step in opening the lines of communication.”