Gang violence continues to escalate in Haiti, with women and girls especially targeted with extreme acts of gender-based violence (GBV), including collective rape, in order to humiliate, terrorize, and consolidate control over local populations.  The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is calling on the international community for urgent funding needed to increase access to protection services and health care for women and girls, including to ease their recovery through psychosocial support.  

An alarming spike in kidnappings has been reported, with nearly 1,000 cases confirmed so far this year, almost matching the total number documented for the whole of 2022, and close to three times more than the entire previous year. Women continue to be highly exposed to rape and kidnappings while travelling along roads controlled by gangs. 

The IRC collaborates with four Haitian partners, mainly in the West department of Haiti, to provide vital services. One of the partners, women’s organization MARIJÀN, conducted a survey among 299 women and girls in marginalized neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince in May 2023, which showed that 63% of women had been forced to relocate because of the level of violence they experienced in their neighbourhoods, one in five said they had been victims of rape, and 17% had experienced physical violence.

Nathalie Eleonor Vilgrain, General Coordinator for MARIJÀN, IRC partner organization in Port-au-Prince, said:

“Women and girls are faced with an inhuman social reality. In marginalized neighborhoods, they are exposed to physical and psychological violence; beatings, intimidation, gang rape and murder are just some of the methods gangs use to establish their domination, and force women and girls into total submission. 

“The few women who manage to escape from these neighborhoods, and who have taken refuge in camps for displaced persons in the Port-au-Prince area, are not exempt from situations of mistreatment and abuse, physical and verbal aggression, sexual exploitation, forced pregnancy.” 

With support from the IRC, MARIJÀN has assisted over 800 survivors of sexual violence between the months of May and September, providing psychological support for individuals and groups as well as providing other services to prevent and respond to GBV, including running legal workshops. Nearly 100 women have benefited from cash assistance and economic empowerment. 

Nora Love, IRC Emergency Director, said:

“Haiti has seen political instability and unprecedented levels of insecurity for more than a decade. The intensifying brutality that Haitians are facing is extremely worrisome, especially for women and girls whose vulnerability is further exploited by gangs with ever growing influence throughout the country.

“Accessing protection and health has already been difficult due to overwhelmed public systems. Extreme gang violence is endangering our partners’ ability to carry out their work, further exacerbating the vulnerability of our clients.”

Political instability, gang violence, rising food insecurity, disease outbreaks, and climate shocks have led to 5.2 million people being in need of humanitarian aid in Haiti, according to the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan. More than 5,400 victims of gang violence, including almost 3,000 murders and over 1,000 kidnappings, were reported byUNFPA between January and late September 2023. The consequences of the violence that is reaching new departments outside the metropolitan area of the capital Port-au-Prince as organized gangs attempt to extend their areas of influence, are evident in the number of internally displaced people in the West department,surpassing 146,000, of whom more than half are women.


The IRC’s response to the Haiti crisis

The IRC has a history of supporting Haiti throughout the worst impacts of crises since the earthquake that devastated the country in 2010. In December 2022, the IRC launched a response through emergency donations and longer-term support to Haitian partners working in Port-au-Prince, initially focusing on cholera prevention, running mobile health clinics for internally displaced people and support for survivors of gender-based violence. Additionally, the IRC serves Haitians on the move throughout the arc of the crisis in countries where the IRC has a programmatic response, including Mexico.