Staying alive


BOLD WOMEN: Pampha Nepali, Rupa Maharjan, Ishwori Bhandari, and Nanmaiju Prajapati (from top), survived the earthquake, and now try to survive deep-rooted patriarchy as they raise their families. 

Being a country of stark inequities, relief and rehabilitation four years after the 2015 earthquake has also been unevenly distributed. Particularly vulnerable have been excluded groups, women, senior citizens and children who need extra support.

Even among female survivors, it was single women-headed households, widows, divorcees, or those ostracised by in-laws who are worse off. Of the 812,371 households affected by the disaster, more than a quarter were headed by single women, and 2,000 were freshly widowed by the earthquake. 

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They face challenges in renewing land titles lost in house collapses, in-laws who refuse to hand over a dead husband’s property, or even getting citizenships for children born after fathers died in the earthquake. All this has added to the economic burden for women who have lost breadwinners.

A UN Gender Equality Update states that women’s duties increased after the earthquake: they were spending four-five hours a day cleaning the debris, and it took them three more hours to get water than before. Many had to check on children as they went about their daily work, delaying chores. Women were found to be less aware of the steps they needed to take for aid.

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Women of all categories faced these extra burdens, but the impact was most deeply felt by single women who for the most part started rebuilding much later than others, as our profiles of women in this issue of Nepali Times show. Many women did not know how to work the system, and lacked vital documents like citizenship or birth and marriage certificates needed to claim compensation or share of property. 

“Often, married women’s in-laws were unwilling to identify them in front of government officials, because they were scared that the women would get their documents and demand their share of property,” says Upasan Rana with Women for Human Rights (WHR). Without these documents, land and property remained with their husbands’ families. 

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The NRA (National Reconstruction Authority) has identified 9,024 single women above the age of 65 in its ‘vulnerable’ category, and is verifying their identities and giving them Rs50,000 more to help rebuild homes. The government’s Single Women Security Fund is also supposed to help with education, training, income generation, and relief, but many do not know about it.

“There is not much awareness about this facility especially among earthquake affected women who need it the most,” says Bipana Dhimal of Oxfam. Adding to the problem is that after the country became federal, the fund’s district level structures were annulled putting even more rural women out of its reach.

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