By Claire Gillepsie
This week saw the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal in April 2015. As in most cases of natural and man-made disaster, the effects of the earthquake disproportionately affected women, both physically and institutionally.
Women in the immediate area of the earthquake’s devastation found themselves suddenly responsible for finding food, shelter and clean water for their families. A large number of Nepalese men work overseas where employment opportunities are better and salaries higher, leaving women in charge of the day-to-day running of the home. In the wake of the earthquake, this also included the task of rebuilding their lives.
As a result, many women have become community leaders, helping to organize aid and reconstruction in their villages and towns. Projects include organizing groups of women to collectively rear livestock and care for children and elders, sharing individual burdens throughout the community. This networking has strengthened women’s positions in their communities; they pool each other’s skills, resources and abilities to be the driving force behind reconstruction efforts in Nepal.
The efforts of women organizing their communities are especially important when you consider that the government agency responsible for rebuilding the areas of Nepal most affected by the earthquake only came into being four months ago. Aid and resources have yet to reach many areas, but life does not wait and these women ensure that as many people as possible can have access to basic necessities and facilities.
One of the unexpected benefits of the aid and development measures that have been put in place over the last 12 months is the provision of accessible healthcare for pregnant women and mothers. Previously, women could have travelled for days to reach the nearest hospital. Health centers created to deal with those injured in the earthquake have given thousands of women healthcare and monitoring for their newborn children within a suitable walking distance of their homes. This has had a tremendous effect on the health and well-being of pregnant women, mothers, and their children.
Though schemes to prevent women from falling into poverty have been organized by bodies such as Oxfam, women have definitely taken the initiative to rebuild their local communities. We hope that as development efforts continue, the leadership of women is reflected in a greater level of respect and autonomy for women in Nepal.