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Haitian women fight back against abuses

Rights groups in Haiti hope for passage of new legislation to protect women from abuse, some of which is detailed in a new Human Rights Watch report released this week.

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As darkness descends on a recent evening, women race to complete tasks in a tent city in the middle of Port-au-Prince where they say their only protection is sunlight and God.

Nathalie Marie-Sevet quickly hand washes clothes in a basin as her neighbors retreat from the streets and behind an iron gate that borders the camp. They’ll stay in their tents for the duration of the night, Ms. Sevet says, forbidding her two daughters Sabrina and Josebeline from leaving her side.

Their makeshift shanty, a one-room wooden framed structure with tarps for walls, is their only barrier against nature and intruders who attack when they see women and girls alone, they say.

“We want to leave, but we can’t go anywhere, so we live here under God’s protection,” says Sevet, who lived in an apartment that collapsed in the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake and like 300,000 other women, is still displaced. “I don’t feel safe here.”

Violence against women is nothing new in Haiti or any country for that matter, says Marlelus Marie-Carline, Sevet’s neighbor. But after Haiti’s devastating earthquake, the occurrence of violent crimes has dramatically increased. Human Rights Watch released a report this week detailing how the rights to health and security for women remain out of reach in the wake of the earthquake with high incidents of rape in camps for the displaced. Women’s advocates say that hunger and poverty have fueled the problem, along with more women relying on men to provide.

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