Feminist Responses to Crisis in Venezuela, Haiti and Poland

Feminist Responses to Crisis in Venezuela, Haiti and Poland
Photo by PROFAMIL in Haiti

On March 2, 2023, CIPS and Fòs Feminista hosted a webinar to discuss the responses of local feminist organizations to the growing humanitarian crises along the borders of Venezuela, Haiti and Poland. We learned that these local feminist organizations fill essential gaps left by the government and other public institutions. The services they provide reveal the state of the crisis and the aggravating inequities that will complicate any future government attempt to stabilize the situation.

We were joined by three Fòs Feminista partners who are deeply involved on the ground, delivering life-saving sexual and reproductive health services to refugees fleeing economic and social collapse and war zones: Belmar Franceschi Castellano, the Executive Director of PLAFAM in Venezuela, Florence Jean Louis Vorbe, the Executive Director at PROFAMIL in Haiti, and Marta Bibi Żbikowska, the coordinator of Feminoteka located in Poland. Susana Medina Salas, Co-director of the Sustainable Ecosystems Unit and Intersectional Approaches at Fòs Feminista chaired the webinar.

The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela has displaced more than 7 million people. In this context, Belmar Franceschi Castellano reminded us that more than 81.5% of Venezuelans live in poverty, and more than 53% live in extreme poverty. Major economic setbacks, degradation of social indicators, and a very polarizing political confrontation have converged to make the state unable to provide solutions to problems as basic as food, housing, electricity, health, and education. While PLAFAM has reproductive health clinics in Caracas, it has expanded its services across Venezuela to reach rural women and those internally displaced by the economic crisis.

Many women are on the move toward the Colombian border and are in extreme danger of violence and human trafficking. Most recently, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has called upon Venezuela to address the high levels of human trafficking and gender-based violence in light of the severe economic, social and political dislocation during the last decade. In the face of such dire circumstances, PLAFAM has been able to provide more than 2 million reproductive health services over the last three years. The combination of displacement and a severe lack of contraception and reproductive health care has created a perfect storm for women and girls. These migrants are in particularly vulnerable situations as they attempt to reach Colombia, Peru, Panama, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, and the United States.

In addition to dealing with the consequences of recurring natural disasters, Haiti has been plunged further into turmoil by an economic, political and social collapse. Florence Jean Louis Vorbe of PROFAMIL in Haiti described a profound political crisis and a state of lawlessness in the country where women’s bodies have become a battlefield. A sharp increase in sexual violence, collective rape, and torture has forced women to submit to armed gangs in order to survive and protect their families. This complete political and institutional vacuum has left PROFAMIL to scramble to respond to the growing reproductive health care needs and to provide psycho-social help.

The crisis has sent thousands of women on a migration journey as they attempt to cross into the Dominican Republic by land, the United States by sea, and South America with the final goal of reaching the United States. Florence Jean Louis Vorbe noted that most women who cross the border into the Dominican Republic or the United States are repatriated to Haiti. Still, this forced return is usually catastrophic for them since they come back in an even poorer and more fragile state. Having sold all their belongings to make the crossing, they have almost nothing to come back to and experience difficulties reintegrating in Haiti. This cycle of increasing vulnerability continues as the women have no choice but to plan their next attempt to leave Haiti.

One common thread for all three organizations is their role in distributing essential medical supplies, in a context of shortages and insufficient government involvement, and in building transnational alliances with local organizations on both sides of the border.


That women’s bodies are battlefields became the webinar’s common theme as Marta Bibi Żbikowska of Feminoteka in Poland spoke about the organization’s work. Feminoteka has been assisting Polish women escaping gender-based violence for years, but since February 2022 has also been dealing with an influx of refugees from Ukraine fleeing the war zone. In the past year, they have helped more than 200 women from Ukraine who are especially vulnerable: as survivors of sexual violence, they often experience PTSD, anxiety, and depression. They are single mothers, pregnant or with children, and struggle to find accommodation and employment.

The government’s denial of gender-based violence in Polish society and the refusal to provide a support system create a challenging situation for the feminist organizations on the ground. Moreover, Poland’s near-total ban of abortion makes it extremely difficult to support survivors of sexual violence escaping Ukraine. Marta Bibi Żbikowska made another important revelation: women have been crossing into Poland to escape war violence but, some have also used this opportunity to escape domestic violence. While starting a new life in Poland is daunting, it dwarfs the suffering imposed by abusive partners.  

One common thread for all three organizations is their role in distributing essential medical supplies, in a context of shortages and insufficient government involvement, and in building transnational alliances with local organizations on both sides of the border. They establish networks of solidarity and cooperation with local and international partners and work with various donors.

The glaring absence of government support in all three cases spotlights just how much work in humanitarian crises falls onto the backs of the organizations on the ground. When it comes to responding to the needs of women and girls fleeing conflict, rape as a war weapon, and gender-based violence, feminist organizations have proven time and time again that if they don’t pick up the work, no one else will.

Based on the webinar held on March 2 – Safety, Sanctuary and Care Beyond Borders: Feminist Responses to Crisis in Venezuela, Haiti and Poland

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