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EQUALITY ON HOLD

by Satvika Khera

The Gendered Consequences of the Pandemic on Women and Girls in Nepal

The effects of the Covid 19 pandemic have compounded existing vulnerabilities for women and girls in South Asia and specifically in Nepal. Women’s rights activists across the country are facing unprecedented challenges, exacerbated by issues such as the caste system and prevailing patriarchal norms.

Durga Sob
Founding President of the Feminist Dalit Organisation (FEDO) and Co-chair of the Asia Dalit Rights Forum

“Marginalised communities in developing countries like Nepal are more affected by disasters and pandemics than other communities,” said Durga Sob, adding that discrimination in access to quarantine facilities, vaccinations, and relief is rampant. “We are conducting rapid assessments and collecting disaggregated data so that marginalised women are not left behind.”

Durga was born in the Far Western Region of Nepal, where discrimination based on caste and gender is widely prevalent. She recounted her early struggles and accounts of witnessing the violence and stigma faced by women and girls from the Dalit community. “My childhood was painful,” she recalled. “I was born a girl in a Dalit family.”

Founded in 1994, FEDO is a national organisation dedicated to the rights of Dalit women in the country, who are often landless and work in the informal sector. “You cannot imagine how they are surviving the pandemic,” she added. “Where there is poverty, women cannot stay at home. They need to earn an income.”
According to Durga, Dalit women are more likely to be discriminated against or experience violence than Dalit men, especially in villages along the Indian border. “Further, the rates of violence against Dalit women and children are high. They are often violated and killed with impunity,” she said. In Nepal, measures aimed at achieving gender equality should ensure the inclusion of women from diverse backgrounds. “There should be a provision for Dalit and indigenous women and other women who are discriminated against. These social groups are structurally excluded,” she said.

Charimaya Tamang
Founder Member of Shakti Samuha

“The global pandemic has adversely affected the life of every individual,” said Charimaya Tamang, a leader in the fight against human trafficking in Nepal. “We could not conduct any in-person programmes. It was also hard to ensure the health and security of our beneficiaries, staff, and members,” she added. Charimaya elaborated on the difficulty of survival – specifically for members who had lost their jobs during the pandemic.
Shakti Samuha has been conducting relief programmes to support its members. The organisation operates six shelter homes in Nepal in the Banke, Kaski, Sindhupalchok, and Kathmandu districts, which provide essential services to female trafficking survivors and vulnerable individuals. Overall, Shakti Samuha works in 17 districts in Nepal.

Established in 1996, Shakti Samuha works on prevention, protection, and capacity-building interventions. “Gender equality should be a national priority,” said Charimaya. According to her, achieving gender equality is crucial for social development and transformation.

“We need to change with the times. The issue of gender inequality is still considered a women’s problem in Nepal,” she added.

Bandana Rana
Co-founder of Saathi and Member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

Stay-at-home orders and lockdowns have created additional barriers for women and girls’ access to support networks, counselling, sexual and reproductive health services, and refuge.

“Most major hospitals were turned into facilities for treating Covid 19 patients. Other essential services, such as maternal health services, were transferred to facilities that did not have the right infrastructure or capacity,” said Bandana Rana, Co-founder of Saathi, a leading non-profit with the primary goal of addressing domestic violence in Nepal.

“Even in our shelters, pregnant women feared contracting the virus and refused to go to hospitals,” she added. Saathi operates four shelters for women in Kapilvastu, Nepalgunj, Kathmandu and Kanchanpur. During the pandemic, organisations such as Saathi are fighting what is referred to as the shadow pandemic.
“The staff members at the shelters thought that perhaps we should close our shelters to new entrants due to the fear of contracting the virus,” said Bandana. “However, we dealt with the circumstances by counselling them and reiterating that we are a rights-based organisation. We were established to provide services at critical times.” “We, however, had to make sure that this did not negatively impact the women in our shelters,” she recalled.

With equality on hold in Nepal, human rights activists in the country continue to work hard to protect the most vulnerable and reduce the negative and gendered impact of the pandemic.

“The people of Nepal have a strong desire for change. We should tap into this potential. We cannot afford to lose what we have achieved so far,” added Bandana.

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