“On November 13, during the La Saline massacre, two of my friends were killed. As for me, my life was spared after I was raped.” Vanessa [name changed to preserve the identity of the victim], 26 years old.
Many women in Haiti, like Vanessa, are subjected to heinous acts of violences perpetrated by armed groups who take advantage of the context of instability to spread trouble and even death.
On November 13 and 14, 2018, clashes between rival gangs of La Saline, Bel-Air and Martissant, all disadvantaged neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince, led to the death of 26 people, the disappearance of 12 others, and the rape of 11 women and girls.
“I spoke of the rape I suffered on the radio” continues Vanessa. “Since that day, the gang members have been looking to kill me. I had to take refuge in the street to protect myself and escape the death threats. I left my 6-year-old daughter with some friends and I went to sleep on the street because I have no other place to go.”
Vanessa is one of 31 women from the La Saline, Bel-Air and Martissant neighbourhoods who have benefited from the psychosocial care offered by SOFA (Solidarité des Femmes haïtiennes), partner of our Women’s Voice and Leadership project in Haiti (WVL–Haiti), as part of the 16 days of activism against violences against women and girls.
Through instances of group therapy led by a social worker, these women had the opportunity to express their trauma in a safe space. These sessions have helped survivors of violences overcome their shock by realizing that their case is not isolated and that they are not alone in wanting to change things. They were also able to express themselves through mandalas, a method of art therapy that can help bring down different internal blockages through drawing and physical relaxation.
“Because of the gunshots I hear continuously at night, I suffered from insomnia. After the psychosocial support sessions offered by SOFA, I can now sleep.” Fany [name changed to preserve the identity of the victim], 34 years old
“My husband, who was the only source of income for the family, was killed. SOFA’s activity has not solved my economic problems but I feel better now and I am ready to face my daily challenges.” Christine [name changed to preserve the identity of the victim], 28 years old
SOFA is one of 16 women’s organizations that benefited from the support of the WVL–Haiti project as part of the 16 days of activism. In addition to this flagship activity carried out in Port-au-Prince, SOFA also organized sessions to raise awareness on the issue of violences against women and girls throughout its intervention areas, the departments of Sud-Est, Grand’Anse, Centre and Artibonite.
On December 19, 2019, SOFA brought together the 31 women beneficiaries of the psychosocial support sessions for a closing ceremony of the 16 days of activism. It was an opportunity for them to express their satisfaction and the improvement of their psychological state following the activities in which they participated.
The SOFA representative took the opportunity to introduce them to the Douvanjou centre, where women victims of violences can participate in weekly discussion groups. These mutual assistance groups facilitated by a psychologist allow women to recover from the trauma caused by situations of psychological, physical or other violences. Participants are also made aware of the fact that the road to recovery will be long, that more than one day of psychosocial assistance will be necessary and that the doors of the Douvanjou centre are open to them every Thursday.
SOFA ended the activity by offering the 31 women a bag containing hygiene products. These products included hand towels, soap and sanitary pads. SOFA hopes these products can make a difference in the challenging daily lives of these survivors of violences.
Vanessa concludes, “These exchanges with other women in the same situation made me feel better. I will keep coming to SOFA’s Douvanjou centre to participate in these group discussions and escape my daily life on the street, if only for a few hours.”