No ordinary state of emergency

Originally in the White Pine Press 3-22-12


Earlier this month we woke up to a thick, fuzzy, 25-inch blanket of snow that was unrolled onto northern Michigan. It was the heavy wet kind of snow, and it plastered itself to everything. Nearly 200,000 people lost power here in the mitten, myself included.

Branches and trees were down everywhere. The poor trees- when winter comes they look dead, but life still pulses under their bark…all over town you could smell pine and see the brightly colored raw pulp exposed where limbs had broken off under the weight of the snow. Giant trees were resting on people’s roofs and demolished decks.

Everything in town slowed dramatically, some people couldn’t even get out of their driveways. It seemed like everyone with power opened their arms to those of us who lost it. Warming stations popped up all over town. Hotels were completely booked and stores ran out of water and generators.
Everywhere you went people were asking…do you have power? Are you all right? The news told us we were in a “state of emergency.”

In America, we call this week of snowy weather and temporary loss of power an emergency.  Sometimes it takes events like this to remind me how fortunate we are. With the words “state of emergency” ringing in my ears I thought of the women of Haiti.

In January 2010 an earthquake devastated Haiti, killing 230,000 people and injuring 300,000. Presently, there are more than 1 million people still living in makeshift tent cities. Since the day that Mother Nature shook the earth in Haiti, the needs of women and girls living in makeshift tent cities have been largely neglected. These women and girls are at serious risk of sexual attacks at the hands of armed men who roam their camps at night.

According to Amnesty International, more than 250 cases of rape were reported in the first 150 days after the earthquake. It is believed that many more rapes were committed but they went unreported.
“Women, already struggling to come to terms with losing their loved ones, homes and livelihoods in the earthquake, now face the additional trauma of living under the constant threat of sexual attack,” said Gerardo Ducos, a researcher for Amnesty International.

“Sexual violence is widely present in camps where some of Haiti’s most vulnerable live,” said Chiara Liguori, a researcher at Amnesty International in Port-au-Prince. “It was already a major concern in the country before the earthquake but the situation in which displaced people are living exposes women and girls to even greater risks.”

Many survivors of assault live with the constant knowledge that there is no security for them. This population is vulnerable to attack; armed gangs know that there is little chance that law enforcement will confront their acts of violence.

In America, we call a snowstorm a state of emergency, which I am truly silenced by the far-reaching extent of our privilege. We are, in fact, so privileged we don’t even know how fortunate we really are.
The women and children of Haiti are not able to sleep without fear of sexual assault. It is impossible to even comprehend such a reality, unless you have seen it or lived it. Still, the Haitian women are strong.  They persevere. They live to dream of better times.

As we move towards a global economy, let us remember about the greater community around us; let us remember that there are those who are suffering. As the reminders of our “state of emergency” melt away, I ask that you join me in remembering the women of Haiti who are still surviving in a real state of emergency.

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