Helping Haiti: Bibeau begins 3-day visit focused on improving health, empowering women

International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau is travelling to Haiti today to begin a three-day trip focusing on improving health and empowering women in the disaster-plagued, impoverished nation.

International Development Minister to meet with President Jovenel Moïse

International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau is making a three-day visit to Haiti to find ways to improve health outcomes in the country. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau travels to Haiti today to begin a three-day trip focused on improving health and empowering women in the disaster-plagued, impoverished nation.

She will  meet with Haitian President Jovenel Moise to offer Canada's support and collaboration as he works to ease his country's reliance on foreign assistance to fund its social services.

"It's a new president and we want to support him. He wants Haiti to take its responsibilities and to lead and not see all these NGO's doing his business," Bibeau told CBC News in an interview.

"We want to see how we can work in this collaborative way for this transition for the government of Haiti to be more and more responsible for these services that should be under the responsibility of government, such as health and education and security."

Moise was sworn in as president in February 2017 after a lengthy electoral crisis that began in October 2015 when elections were annulled over allegations of fraud.

Bibeau said she is optimistic Haiti will make progress under the new leadership, but conceded it's a "long-term process."

Haiti remains the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest in the world, according to the World Bank.

On Monday Bibeau will announce $8.3 million for a Women's Voice and Leadership initiative in Haiti led by the Centre for International Studies and Cooperation. The money will help tackle gender-based violence, improve access to higher education and promote more equitable pay with funding for local women's advocacy groups.

Canada provides about $100 million a year in assistance to Haiti. Bibeau said Canada has the expertise, technical assistance and knowledge to help in Haiti's health system "evolution."

Haiti's president Jovenel Moise talks during a ceremony on the 8th anniversary of the 2010 earthquake, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press)

Along with meeting government officials, the minister also will meet with Canadian aid workers in the field to fine-tune priorities and determine how better coordination and collaboration could maximize the impact of aid.

"It will help me and the team to identify where we should be more involved, or less involved, to make the greatest difference, especially for women and girls," she said.

Bibeau will also visit a training centre for midwives.

Sexual misconduct scandal

Her visit comes as the international development community reels from a sexual misconduct scandal that put Haiti in the spotlight.

Allegations have been levelled against Oxfam Great Britain's country director for Haiti, accusing him of using prostitutes and turning a home rented by Oxfam into a brothel after the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and caused extensive damage to infrastructure and the economy.

Six other people reportedly were dismissed or allowed to quietly resign over the allegations.

This week, Bibeau met with the heads of a dozen major Canadian aid organizations to discuss the scandal. She said she left the discussions feeling confident the groups have stringent prevention and response strategies in place.

Risking health, security

Those checks and balances may not yet be enshrined in smaller agencies, she said.

While no profession can pretend it's untouched by incidents of sexual misconduct, Bibeau said Canadian volunteers and humanitarian workers are doing an "amazing job" and should not be tainted by the scandal.

"They are risking their health, their safety to protect the poorest and most vulnerable," she said. "I take very, very seriously every case but I wouldn't want the public to think all humanitarian workers are predators. That is far, far, far from the reality."

In this Jan. 10, 2018 photo, Mona Leger, a 39-year-old charcoal vendor and mother of 6 stands outside her tent in a refugee camp set up nearly eight years ago for people displaced by the 2010 earthquake, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press)