About the Author: Ruth Bennett serves as the Public Affairs Advisor for the Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues (S/GWI).
How do you spread a message about ending violence and discrimination against women in a society in which approximately half the people can't read or write? If you're Digital Democracy, you do it by supplying women with cameras -- and, more importantly, by supplying them with training and education about the power of images.
As Digital Democracy co-director Emily Jacobi explained at the May 10 #HaitiTech Meet Up at the State Department, building on Haiti's rich oral storytelling traditions makes sense on a number of levels: not only do the women produce compelling documentation of the problems they face as they struggle to rebuild their lives -- documentation that can help the international donor community better understand how to direct their efforts -- but the simple act of achieving mastery in a new skill can bolster the women's self-confidence and help them find their voice in other areas.
Women in Haiti are bearing a double burden from the January earthquake: not only did they lose their homes and their loved ones, but they also face sexual violence in temporary shelter camps and men's demands to exchange sex for food and other necessities for themselves and their families. Disruptions in policing and governance leave them particularly vulnerable among a traumatized population.
Building Haiti "back better" means including Haitian women as full and equal contributors at every point in the process. Some much-needed programs operate on a large-scale level -- for example, Coca-Cola launched the Haiti Hope line of mango juice in March, after the Office of Global Women's Issues connected them with Danielle Sant Lot, a former minister of commerce in Haiti. The initiative will give employment to 50,000 farmers -- many of them women -- over the next five years. Other programs, such as those of Digital Democracy, focus on strengthening the individual, and giving them back a sense of control and the ability to be heard. With the help of both types of initiatives, operating in tandem, Haitian women have a greater opportunity to participate in the decisions that affect their country's future.