Source: Richard Pierrin/AFP.
On October 2, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) authorized a security mission to Haiti. Led by Kenyan forces, it is tasked with supporting the local Haitian police force and restoring order to a country steeped in gang violence. Haiti has been in a complex political and security situation for years now. The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021 exacerbated the chaos, and a political halt and ensuing bid for gang control has plagued Haiti since. An estimated 90 percent of Port-au-Prince, its capital, is under brutal gang control. Criminal groups exert violence indiscriminately against civilians for economic profits or power—carrying out kidnappings, mass shootings, and widespread sexual violence.
After years of paralysis and negotiations, the Haitian government and international community have agreed on an international security intervention as a means to provide aid. Less clear, however, is how Kenya and its partners will secure the intervention’s success. As the international community moves forward, it is crucial for the initiative to account for the gendered dynamics of the security crisis through intentional and methodical action.
While organized crime, widespread impunity, and pervasive violence affect all residents of Haiti, women and girls bear a disproportionate burden. A 2022 report conducted by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) found that Haitian criminal groups intentionally rape and inflict other forms of sexual violence against women, children, and to a lesser extent, men, in order to expand, consolidate, and exert control over territories.
A study conducted in Cité Soleil, a commune in Port-au-Prince, underscored the gravity of this issue. It found that 80 percent of interviewed women and girls were victims of one or more forms of gender-based violence (GBV), with 43 percent having experienced one or more forms of sexual violence—far surpassing the global average. Across Haiti, such abuses persist with widespread impunity, largely due to the accessibility of high-caliber weapons and the inadequacy of Haitian state capacity to respond. Not only does law enforcement face considerable operational, logistic, and resource constraints to effectively address and investigate GBV—but the police force is often absent from some territories entirely. After experiencing GBV, few are able to access the already limited outlets to report such behavior or seek justice.
GBV and sexual violence have become an intrinsic part of Haitian gang warfare. The bodies of women and girls have become an extension of the battlefield, with sexual violence either used as punishment for perceived allegiance with a rival or to assert control over territory. Transit locations like bus stops and ports are also areas of heightened vulnerability, as gangs conduct sexual violence, kidnappings, and disrupt daily life to maintain their dominance.
As the international community and Kenya continue designing the Multinational Security Support (MSS) operation, it thus becomes imperative to plan for the gendered dynamics of the crisis. While the UNSC resolution contained some language advocating to prevent and respond to GBV, Kenya and its partners must implement tangible measures for response, management, and mitigation. The necessity of such actions has added significance considering the commitments made by the UN and Kenya to honor the gender perspective in security missions. In 2000, the UN adopted Resolution 1325, emphasizing the impact of armed conflict on women and girls and promoting their involvement in peace and security processes. Kenya joined member-states in developing its own National Action Plan (KNAP I and II) in response, which outlined concrete commitments to address gender-related issues named in the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda.
The stakes of adhering to these promises in the planned intervention could not be higher. History reveals a pattern of failures in restoring Haitian autonomy and peace. Reports of peacekeepers perpetuating GBV eroded trust in international efforts’ ability to facilitate a status quo of stability—let alone actually improve Haiti’s circumstances in the long term. The proposed MSS operation is an opportunity for Kenya to fulfill the commitments made under Resolution 1325 and KNAP I and II. More generally, it represents an opportunity for the international community and the Haitian government to uphold their obligations and responsibilities to the Haitian people. These are some ways they can do so.
First, the operation must align with the gender-responsive framework set forth by the WPS agenda and actively involve women in all levels: policy, strategy development, and operational implementation. Before deploying, Kenya should incorporate gender as a cross-cutting element within the conflict and strategic analysis and create a gender-based security threat, risk, and vulnerability assessment. Because operations designed to reclaim control over gang-dominated neighborhoods could increase GBV, the MSS must integrate protection for local populations tangentially to its operations. To this end, the recently adopted National Strategy on Disarmament, Dismantling, Reinsertion, and Community Violence Reduction (SNDDR–CVR) includes a comprehensive plan to prevent GBV, provide support for victims, and establish protective mechanisms within the local community.
Kenyan and other participating forces must undergo training that educates them on GBV, expected scenarios, and a victim-centric response. Although there are reports of initial training, no information on gender-specific training or its implementation has surfaced. Given the prevailing—and justified—mistrust of international aid amongst Haitians, security forces must be informed of and held accountable to a zero-tolerance policy for sexual violence. This is all the more important when considering the Kenyan police’s own reputation for excessive force.
Since the Kenyan led coalition included capacity-building within its scope, it should work with the Haitian National Police (PNH, per its acronym in French) to improve GBV response capabilities through specialized police units. Kenya’s NAP emphasizes strengthening police capabilities to safeguard women and girls. Forces should draw on this framework during conduct, with the development of an independent and self-sufficient PNH model as the ultimate goal.
Such objectives may feel distant when considering the violent landscape. However, collaborating with local entities is crucial to ensure the longevity of peace in Haiti. The MSS operation must learn from local knowledge of the security landscape in order to be effective. Over time, this can and should transition into community-led infrastructure. Community-based GBV services have already been observed enhancing existing security efforts, as seen in similar projects led by the World Bank. Eventually, the PNH should implement survivor-centered services for victims to report abuses, both to give the Haitian people justice, and to undermine GBV as a feasible tool for gangs in the future.
GBV is inextricably linked to the security crisis in Haiti. Addressing it should be as essential as confronting the gangs. A gender-sensitive approach must be woven into the MSS operation’s every action. Without definite, actionable steps to account for women, girls, and victims of GBV, existing considerations risk becoming mere rhetoric, potentially condemning Haiti to yet another failed intervention.
Diana Paz García is a researcher specialized in gender-based violence and nontraditional security threats. She currently works at a Washington, DC-based think tank on international security and foreign affairs.
Chinon Norteman is a researcher and writer focusing on nontraditional security threats, human rights, technology, and their intersection. She works on the research staff of a Washington, DC-based think tank.
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