On a small peninsula between two bays on the northern coast of Haiti, the village of Le Borgne shelters the Asosyasyon Famn de Boy (AFB), Creole for the Women’s Association of Le Borgne. Supported by UN Women, the association helps women survivors of gender-based violence to access medical and legal care.
Six hours drive from the capital Port-au-Prince, Le Borgne was spared from Haiti’s recent disasters, but has also been largely ignored by the inflow of international assistance that has saturated the earthquake-affected areas.
Just off the main square, is the AFB centre, an unfinished cinderblock building. Inside, Francia Orel Estimanle and her team have gathered a group of women and girls who they have assisted in receiving medical services and justice. Trained by UN Women on counseling survivors of violence against women, Francia encourages them to share their stories with each other, and support each other.
One young woman tells how she resisted an attempted rape, only to have her aggressor beat her face and knock out several teeth. Knowing that she would find both solidarity and support, she went to the AFB office. She was taken to the nearest city, Cap-Haitien, where she was examined by a dentist and got a proper diagnosis. While AFB helped her secure an arrest warrant, the aggressor fled the area before he could be apprehended.
A second woman relays her harrowing experience of being targeted for revenge due to an unpaid debt of a distant family member. After the hooligans could not find her relative, they pounced on her while she was collecting water and beat her viciously. She managed to make it to AFB where they immediately escorted her to the hospital to get treatment and the medical certificate needed for a warrant. “If I couldn’t come here to get support, I would have died,” she explained. Her aggressors also fled but arrest warrants await their return.
UN Women supports AFB to accompany survivors to medical and justice services and follow up on their cases. According to Kathy Mangones, UN Women Country Programme Manager, “The chances of a woman receiving justice are multiplied if she is accompanied by an advocate.” AFB cites cases of women receiving justice and convicted aggressors being tried and put into jail. The consequences for violence, as well as the increasing lack of tolerance by survivors of gender-based violence in the community, send a strong message to potential perpetrators.
UN Women and partners are also linking response efforts with Local Security Committees, which at their monthly meetings, identify specific security issues facing women and girls and devise solutions. They work to prevent violence occurring in the first place. The Committee in Le Borgne is attended by the local magistrate, the Haitian National Police inspector for the municipality, local public health officials, religious leaders, civil society representatives and journalists.
AFB, established in 2004 in this densely populated town of 80,000 people, has conducted broad sensitization campaigns on women’s rights and violence against women, as well as served as a referral centre for survivors of violence. While challenges are plenty, the Local Security Committees have also succeeded in mobilizing police to apprehend suspects, change patrol patterns to monitor high-risk areas and spread awareness about the consequences of violence against women and girls.
The efforts are bringing results. Police Inspector Luc Codio says, “Men are more hesitant to beat women because they are more aware of the measures and laws that are in place.”
Magistrate Germaine Louse Gerard attributes the reduction in violence to the reduction in impunity. “When the perpetrators see a victim get justice, the sanction serves as a disincentive,” she says.
More women and girls are coming forward as awareness of AFB and the Local Security Committees grow. Wilna, AFB’s deputy head, summarizes the vision of AFB, “Our dream is to help women find solidarity among themselves and achieve a society where women are less vulnerable and economically secure.” UN Women and AFB are also working to initiate economic empowerment activities in Le Borgne to offer livelihood support to vulnerable women.
UN Women supports AFB and the Local Security Committee in Le Borgne, as well as similar initiatives in eight other under-served Haitian communities in partnership with Britain’s Department for International Development and the Australian Agency for International Development.