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J Hum Rights Pract. 2016 Jul;8(2):219-238. Epub 2016 May 9.

Understanding and Addressing Vulnerability Following the 2010 Haiti Earthquake: Applying a Feminist Lens to Examine Perspectives of Haitian and Expatriate Health Care Providers and Decision-Makers.


Vulnerability is a central concept in humanitarian aid. Discussions of vulnerability in disaster response literature and guidelines for humanitarian aid range from considerations of a universal human vulnerability, to more nuanced examinations of how particular characteristics render individuals more or less at risk. Despite its frequent use, there is a lack of clarity about how vulnerability is conceptualized and how it informs operational priorities in humanitarian assistance. Guided by interpretive description methodology, we draw on the feminist taxonomy of vulnerability presented by Mackenzie, Rogers and Dodds (2014) to examine perspectives of 24 expatriate and Haitian decision-makers and health professionals interviewed between May 2012 and March 2013. The analysis explores concepts of vulnerability and equity in relation to the humanitarian response following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Participants' conceptualizations of vulnerability included consideration for inherent vulnerabilities related to individual characteristics (e.g. being a woman or disabled) and situational vulnerabilities related to particular circumstances such as having less access to health care resources or basic necessities. Participants recognized that vulnerabilities could be exacerbated by socio-political structures but felt ill-equipped to address these. The use of the taxonomy and a set of questions inspired by Hurst's (2008) approach to identifying and reducing vulnerability can guide the analysis of varied sources of vulnerability and open discussions about how and by whom vulnerabilities should be addressed in humanitarian responses. More research is required to inform how humanitarian responders could balance addressing acute vulnerability with consideration of systemic and pre-existing circumstances that underlie much of the vulnerability experienced following an acute disaster.


Haiti; equity; feminist; humanitarian; vulnerability

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