04/11/2016 04:31 GMT | Updated 04/11/2017 05:12 GMT

One Month On From Hurricane Matthew, Women Are Leading The Recovery In Haiti


Devastated palm trees in Haiti

It is now one month since Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti killing nearly 500 people and leaving 80,000 others without food or safe water provision. This has been a huge disaster which once again has tested the country. But in Haiti we are born with an inner strength - something which is especially true of Haitian women. We have had to be, given the great poverty and previous natural disasters our country has faced over the years.

As part of my role as Haiti country director, I have visited some of the most badly affected towns and villages. The people I met have lost everything including their homes and their crops. There is also the deadly risk of cholera. People are scared, hungry and cold. But in village after village, I saw again how resilient Haitians are and how women in particular, are at the centre of the disaster response.

When the hurricane struck, communities banded together to ensure the most vulnerable - children and the elderly - were carried to safety. Once in temporary shelters it was women who mobilised to pool resources and ensure everyone was fed. They also made sure that teenage girls and single women slept away from the men, to ensure their safety.


Joanne Moise, 28, whose house was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew

Immediately afterwards it was women who were involved in assisting people and beginning the process of recovery. Among them is Joanne Moise who works with an ActionAid partner organisation. Joanne's house was completely destroyed at 4am as the winds hit. She, her husband and two small children had to escape to a nearby church to shelter. But in the aftermath, Joanne has been helping build the recovery.

As she explains: 'We have a programme which is called 'Solidarité'. So if one member of the group has a problem, it is a shared problem, and we all help to solve it.

"We visit everyone because everyone in the community was affected. But when we have this kind of disaster it hurts the women particularly badly. I really love my community. I love it. That's why I stay there. I don't want to move anywhere else. So I want to work to make it better."

Another woman who has worked hard is Joceline Saint Clair. She works with an ActionAid partner organisation in the Grand-Anse area where families already lived in acute poverty before the hurricane. Joceline worked tirelessly to help ActionAid distribute emergency supplies, food, water and tinned milk, just hours after the hurricane brought such destruction and despair.

When any disaster strikes it is always women and children who are most vulnerable. This situation can often be made worse by widespread gender discrimination and lack of access to resources. Women in Haiti are discriminated against in every aspect of society and there is a huge problem with domestic violence.


Devastation in Haiti

But in spite of this ActionAid Haiti has worked with Haitian women's groups for several years, providing leadership training and support and contributing to the country's existing strong women's movement. When disaster struck those skills were put into action.

It is a model that ActionAid follows globally believing that opening up space for women's participation and leadership in humanitarian response and recovery can raise aspirations for women and girls by allowing their voices to be heard and for grassroots solutions to make a genuine difference on the ground.

In Haiti, as families struggle to come to terms with rebuilding their shattered lives we know it is women who will be at the forefront of putting communities back together, stronger than ever.

To donate to ActionAid's work in Haiti you can go to the website here.