While Hurricane Dorian visited catastrophic loss of life and destruction of communities on Grand Bahama and Abaco, its impact on women, especially women of Haitian descent, was greater due to pre-existing inequalities, a United Nations report said.
“Not only were women displaced in greater numbers, they also faced heightened safety concerns and the greatest care-giving burden in emergency shelters and temporary accommodations,” the report, “Advancing gender equality in environmental migration and disaster displacement in the Caribbean”, said.
“Women and girls experienced greater barriers to returning to their communities of origin.
“Inequalities and discrimination experienced by certain groups pre-Dorian, including persons of Haitian descent and the LGBTI community, were also magnified by the disaster reducing the ability of these groups to recover from its impacts. Haitian women and girls were among the most marginalized following Dorian, owing to intersecting forms of discrimination on account of their nationality, socioeconomic status and gender.”
The UN report noted that gender-based violence is a persistent problem in The Bahamas and its true impact prior to Dorian, which hit in September 2019, is not known “due to inconsistent data collection and under-reporting”.
Dorian hit Abaco on September 1 and wrecked havoc. It lashed Grand Bahama for three days.
Officially, 74 people died in the storm, but hundreds more were reported missing.
More than two years after the storm, both islands are still recovering. Some residents still live in tents, domes, or the ruins of their homes.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, residents from both islands fled to other islands.
The report noted that three months after the storm, 3,360 people relocated to New Providence.
Of these 3,360 persons, 1,805 were women and 1,555 were men.
“Women were displaced in larger numbers than men from the two main affected islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco following Hurricane Dorian,” the report said.
“This trend was observed most prominently in the case of Grand Bahama. However, more people evacuated from Abaco since it sustained the most severe damage.’’
The Abaco population was particularly vulnerable to “disaster displacement” due to its large Haitian community, the report said.
The Mudd, the largest Haitian community in the country, was wiped out after Dorian.
“Displaced persons of Haitian descent also faced more challenges in their efforts to return to their pre-Dorian communities as a result of their higher poverty levels, more limited social contacts, and the threats of deportation,” the report said.
“Female-headed households of Haitian descent likely faced the highest barriers to returning due to the risk of family separation and added insecurity caused by GBV and protection concerns in communities of origin. Approximately a third of settlements reported visits from immigration services, suggesting that Haitian returnees may have faced particular insecurity due to the risk of harassment and deportation.
“It is reported that the risk of deportation drove Haitians to hide in bushes in New Providence during the recovery phase. Even where reporting and referral mechanisms for victims of abuse existed, Haitian women with irregular status may have been more hesitant to make use of them due to the presence of immigration authorities in their return communities.”
A month after Dorian, then Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis visited one of the few remaining shantytowns on Abaco. He instructed that it be torn down. He also said the government intended to resume deportations of those migrants who are in the country illegally.
The UN report also noted that it is “likely that women experienced fewer options for returning to their islands”.
“Since more men are employed in the building and construction sectors than women in The Bahamas, men are better equipped to rebuild their own homes after hurricanes,” it said.
“Across the seven government shelters in New Providence, the most common occupation reported for females was housekeeping, whereas for males the most common reported occupations were gardeners, carpenters and security services.”
The report said that the ability of women to mobilize social networks and lead community groups contributed to effective shelter management and better outcomes for people who were displaced.
“Stories of the heroism of women and girls, including a young woman who organized rescue missions during Hurricane Dorian using social media, highlight the resourcefulness of Bahamian women in the face of disasters,” it said.
“Women of Haitian descent displayed particular resilience in meeting the care and protection needs of families, while rebuilding their lives in new communities and islands amidst marginalization and insecurity.”