Shortly after the quake, Tracy Clark-Flory of Salon polled experts and aid officials about how or why they might focus on the needs of women after a disaster, whether with particular provisions or with the distribution of emergency assistance.
The reasons are paradoxical: Women are both more vulnerable after a disaster (having begun at a disadvantage, and now at risk for violence) and yet have the capacity to be connectors in humanitarian efforts:
Women "are central actors in family and community life," says [Gender and Disaster Network co-founder Elaine] Enarson, and are more likely to know "who in the neighborhood most needs help - where the single mothers, women with disabilities, widows and the poorest of the poor live."
And of course, traditionally women are alongside the most vulnerable members of any society, children.
But according to a post today by two human rights advocates affiliated with MADRE, more often than not this is not actually how it plays out:
[Women] are often overlooked in large-scale aid operations. In the chaos that follows disasters, aid too often reaches those who yell the loudest or push their way to the front of the line. When aid is distributed through the "head of household" approach, women-headed families may not even be recognized, and women within male-headed families may be marginalized when aid is controlled by male relatives.
Of course, if you go over to the alternate universe of the men's rights blogs, you might imagine that Haitin women are about to be magically air-lifted out of the post-earthquake rubble, where they can rest serenely on a bed of maxi-pads and gaze down at the poor, suffering men they left behind:
Some relief groups have decided that women deserve more aid, and have come up with a number of reasons why men should be left to die from injuries and disease while women get preferential treatment....That these women's groups are heading to a disaster area with the same anti-male agenda with which we are so familiar should be cause for outrage.
It is not clear whether such discrimination in the wake of disaster is legal in Haiti. In any event, if men are needlessly dying because these women's groups are hoarding supplies for women only, the Haitian government should send troops in to seize the supplies and distribute them equally to needy men and women alike. That would be a true act of mercy.
Disasters: they bring out the best in... some people.