Why I Give to Women-Focused Relief Organizations

This was originally posted at the AWEARNESS blog. Click on over, the only comment I've gotten is from someone calling me sexist. Thanks to all the Twitter love I got!

Edited on Feb 1, 2010 to add: I'll be adding articles at the bottom on women-centered giving or relief efforts in Haiti. 

When the earthquake hit Haiti last week I decided to direct my giving toward CARE, an organization that focuses its work on women. Some will question why I don't give right to the Red Cross, a very worthy organization. The honest answer is that I want to give my money to an organization who will put women and mothers as a priority. It's not a sexist statement, as much as a truth that reflects our gendered world.

Women are the caregivers of not just their families, but also of their communities around the world. Women know who lived where, who needs help, and so much more vital information that relief organizations require. Add in the fact that with globalization of our economy there are many parts of our world where women far outnumber men due to men immigrating to big cities or other countries, and well, you see how women get left at home to hold things together. When women do immigrate for paying jobs, they leave farming behind, hurting the community. Bottom line, when you put money into women's well-bring it impacts the entire community.

That is why I sent and will continue to send money to CARE. A gendered response is necessary. It doesn't mean that men and boys aren't important. Far from it. It means that women do have certain needs that men don't -- pregnancy, motherhood, and menstruation for starters -- that need addressing. When I give to women-focused agencies, I know they will make sure that women's needs are addressed.

I understand that you may think it's wrong to see this tragedy through a gendered lens, but the impacts will be gendered. And regardless of what you think of me, I hope you will give as generously as possible to whichever organization you support. Long after the cameras stop rolling and Anderson Cooper comes home, Haiti will continue to need us.

Edited on Jan 25:

Women eNews has an excellent article on how the Haiti quake is impacting pregnant women. For those of you still questioning the need for a gendered response (mind you NOT one that ignores men, but instead deals with the harsh realities that women face more often then men) I ask you to read the article. Here is one excerpt:
Of the 3 million people affected by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti, and the aftershocks that continued as recently as Jan. 20, an estimated 63,000 are pregnant women. In the month ahead, 7,000 women are expected to deliver. Giving birth or seeking prenatal care in a city where even the presidential plaza is destroyed poses countless risks to women in Port-au-Prince and throughout the quake region. The New-York based UNFPA has spearheaded efforts to help minimize the risks these women face.
 Cartoon by Mikhaela B. Reid

Edited on Feb 1, 2010

From the Chicago Sun-Times: Relief workers began handing out women-only food coupons, launching a new phase of what they hope will be less cutthroat aid distribution to ensure that families and the weak get supplies following Haiti's devastating earthquake.

Young men often force their way to the front of aid delivery lines or steal from it from others, meaning aid doesn't reach the neediest at rough-and-tumble distribution centers, according to aid groups.

From Women eNews: With 45 percent of Haitian households headed by women, a number of United Nations agencies are targeting their relief efforts at Haitian women to help them overcome their human and material losses from the recent earthquake.

"They are the ones who are the economic as well as the psychological mainstay of children and other dependents, the aged and the sick," said Roberta Clarke, regional program director for the United Nations Development Fund for Women, or UNIFEM.

From Feminist Peace Network: In Continuing To Address The Needs In Haiti From A Gender-Informed Lens FPN is also linking to stories about gendered relief efforts.

Criminals in Haiti 'raping quake survivors and trafficking children':
Criminals in Haiti are preying on vulnerable earthquake survivors, even raping women, in makeshift camps set up in Port-au-Prince after the disaster.

"With the blackout that's befallen the Haitian capital, bandits are taking advantage to harass and rape women and young girls under the tents," Haiti’s police, chief Mario Andresol, said yesterday.


Priya said...

Well, to balance out your giving of donations to a women's relief organization, I'll give my donations to an organization that primarily benefits men :) After all, men deserve all the care the women get.

Unknown said...

Priya, an organisation such as?

Did you read this post? The OP makes a very good point. The fact of the matter is that in impoverished communities such as Haiti, everyone suffers the malady of poverty, but there are particular concerns for women.
An article linked to in the OP explains a few of these - after a disaster, for example, abortion numbers and rates of violence against women rise.

There's a reason charities supporting specifically women exist, and you're hard pressed to find equivalents for men.

If you'd bothered to click through to the link in the OP, you'd have found this quote which sums the OP's point up nicely;

'All Haitians are suffering right now. But, women are often hardest hit when disaster strikes because they were at a deficit even before the catastrophe. In Haiti, and in every country, women are the poorest and often have no safety net, leaving them most exposed to violence, homelessness and hunger in the wake of disasters.'

Vince M said...

BexB, I don't think you see the irony of Priya's comment. There SHOULD be relief organizations that benefit men only, but it's not politically correct to do so, so you only find ones for women.

BexB, your argument that women are the main victims of poverty would've been true had organizations like CARE, the Girl Effect, and UNIFEM not existed.

What's more, the argument has been made (not necessarily by BexB) that women deserve more aid because they care for families and educate a generation (versus a guy, who educates a family), among other things. This claim is hardly accurate, as it is based on stereotypes. What's more, it is an example of the men = bad, women = good attitude that sadly dominates most of politics today.

If anything, our aid-giving should be EGALITARIAN. This is why I gladly texted "Haiti" to 90999 and don't plan on donating to any organization that only focuses on one gender. By the way, if there were no organizations that focused on women, but rather on men only, I wouldn't donate to them either for the exact same reason.

Unknown said...

Vince M,

Nowhere in my post did I state that 'women are the main victims for poverty', as that is an ill-judged statement and belittles the suffering of men living in its grip. I said women have 'particular concerns'(exact words) that need to be seen to, and if I may elaborate on this a little, I believe these concerns are best served by gender-specific charities, as a more impartial charity's resources may be distributed across too far a social demographic to be as effective in addressing gender-specific issues. And I certainly did not state that women 'deserve' more aid. In my opinion, that's imparting a moral judgment on something that should be considered from a purely practical angle - who most needs the help?

I did take a moment before posting to consider any special requirements male victims of disasters may have that do not also apply to women, and I struggled to think of any. It is not true in reverse, however. As I stated, there are health concerns for women that men will never suffer with, and this is before considering women’s typical lower economic and social status and limited mobility due to being the primary child carers.

If I may use a (somewhat farfetched) analogy to explain my point – imagine a poor community is stricken with a sudden, widespread and inexplicable rise in the number of cancer cases in its people. Would it be best to simply send in a general, pan-cancer health body? Or would you also dispatch specialist teams to deal with gender-specific cancers (Prostate and ovarian), as all cancers are different and require different treatment and knowledge? (Not to mention the different psychological and social needs of the sufferers – a man suffering from cancer will need time off work/may lose his job and become unable to support his family. A woman who undergoes a double mastectomy may be ostracised by an undereducated community, etc.)

Yes, considering women more ‘needing’ of aid because of a perceived social role is stereotypical, and dare I say, sexist. However, it is almost universally the case that women in poor communities are delegated to the lower-status roles of mother and carer.

I don’t see your ‘men = bad, women = good’ point, I’m sorry to say. If politics were truly dominated by this ideology, the governing bodies of the dominant western nations wouldn’t be comprised mostly of (white, straight, able-bodied) males. Ergo, that argument is self-defeating.

Which isn’t to say that I believe our society to be free of anti-male sexism. Far from it. But in my opinion, that’s a discussion for another time. This article was about being pro-woman, not anti-man. And contrary to popular belief, they are not one and the same.

Veronica said...

I added a cartoon & a link to a Women eNews article about pregnant women in Haiti in the main post. Thanks for the comments all!

Give what you can, where YOU want. Just give!

Anonymous said...

What an amazingly sexist sentiment. Sounds more like people want the return of the days of the titanic (women and children first and the like). One could say that women only like equality when it suits....There is a belief among some that feminism has shifted from a female rights movement to a female privileges movement. Sounds to me like you support that shift.

One could also make the argument that we should give more to men. After all, men are generally physically stronger and therefore in the hard, physically demanding times that will come, men are more likely to support their families and rebuild the nation.

And to Priya, unfortunately such an organization doesn't exist (as far as I know). One thing that I guarantee: I will not give to any organization that prioritizes the life of one person over another based upon gender. To do otherwise is to engage in sexism - no matter how you want to rationalize it to make yourself feel better.

Meagan Francis said...

It's extremely silly to try to make this into a "women good men bad" post. Veronica's point--that women need a different sort of aid than men do, a need that may not be addressed by more general, though worthy, charities--is simply practical. The Red Cross is fantastic, but it gets a lot of attention already. Why not point people in the direction of some lesser-known charities that are moving to help with issues that might otherwise be overlooked?

Vince M said...


You're right, I apologize. The error lies with the person who said "But, women are often hardest hit when disaster strikes because they were at a deficit even before the catastrophe."

However, your assertion that "there are health concerns for women that men will never suffer with" only tells one side of the story. For example, men may not have to deal with domestic violence that much, but they ARE victims and deserve help. Further, if you accept the premise that the men provide for their families, then men will need to find employment all of a sudden in the event of a crisis.

Finally BexB, you mention "If politics were truly dominated by this ideology, the governing bodies of the dominant western nations wouldn’t be comprised mostly of (white, straight, able-bodied) males. Ergo, that argument is self-defeating." This is a misconception. The women = good, men = bad attitude persists IN SPITE OF the governing bodies of dominant western nations being comprised of "(white, straight, able-bodied) males".

Further, the "women = good, men = bad" attitude is so embedded in our culture, it is hard to notice it. For the record, I'm not trying to make this into a women good men bad post; politicians do this already.

Jay Hammers said...

Men are the majority of people saving others in Haiti, not women.

I think sustaining these men who are saving people is a lot more important than making women less uncomfortable when they menstruate. Not a requirement.

Men are always the vast majority of homeless. Don't dare to claim women are the major victims of poverty.

Men are at the highest levels of public office because they earned it and statistically speaking are much more likely to do so. Partially because men tend to be more motivated to seek such roles and partially because the variance of men's intelligence is higher. This means we see more men at the top - CEOs, politicians - and more men at the bottom - the mentally challenged. The average man has no overall advantages over women.

Pro-woman IS anti-man today. If it were about equal rights for both sexes it would fly. That's not what feminism is about today, it's about female privileges OVER men. They are intertwined.

WOMEN initiate domestic violence at least as often as men so please don't claim men don't have to deal with domestic violence much.

Cinnamon said...

While organizations like CARE provide care that women need but men don't (health-related mostly), they also are providing help to men in the form of hygiene products, mattresses, clean water, food, shelter, and much more. These organizations are providing care that women need to survive (not to make their menstruation more comfortable) and for their families to survive. Just because they're providing support to women, doesn't mean their efforts don't have an effect on men. I think any expectant father whose wife is pregnant right now is very grateful that gender-specific care is available.

And keep in mind that this post is about Haiti, not the US. So unless you've got statistics to prove how most of the people in Haiti living in poverty are male, or how men are abused as much as women in Haiti, that arguments like some of the ones mentioned here hold no weight with this discussion.

Deidre said...

Those of you saying that the OP's statements are based on stereotypes and misinformation would do well to consider Nicholas Kristof's analysis of why helping women is more effective for entire communities. Not only does investing in women yield higher returns, it also improves the overall health and well-being of the community because women tend to use those resources in more egalitarian ways.

The Times ran an excerpt from his book last year:

This isn't stereotyping or sexism, it's fact-based analysis of aid efforts to many impoverished communities.

Vince M said...

It doesn't matter whether or not men are victims of domestic violence, women are victims of domestic violence, etc. Help should be made available to EVERYONE, not just women. This should be the case in all countries, by the way, not just Haiti, so the assertion that women comprise the majority of domestic violence victims is irrelevant.

Also, in response to "This isn't stereotyping or sexism, it's fact-based analysis of aid efforts to many impoverished communities."
I'm reminded of Don Quixote's "Facts are the enemy of truth."

Finally, I should state that just because women's needs are different from men's needs does NOT imply that
1. men don't have needs, and
2. aid should be for women only.
Which is why we should give to organizations like the American Red Cross, organizations who are out to help people *objectively*; "objectively" is the key word here.