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Women in Nepal take rebuilding into their own hands

By Oxfam
Sangita Thami, 18, learns to build an improved temporary shelter in Chokati VDC, Sindhupalchok district. Sangita and her team have built 26 such shelters so far. She says she is very happy to have acquired vital skills. Photo: Catherine Mahony/Oxfam

Oxfam is working with women in the aftermath of the earthquake to train them in new skills and help them stay safe.

In post-earthquake Nepal, women have faced many losses. But for some, the earthquake also brought an unexpected opportunity to gain something new: the skills to construct shelters for others who were left homeless.

“On one hand I could do something productive for earthquake-affected community people in my area. On the other, it’s a unique skill I have gathered, as I can construct a house whenever there’s a need,” said Sangita Thami, 18. Thami and her team have already built 26 improved temporary shelters in Nepal’s Sindhupalchowk region.

Oxfam partnered with a local organization, Gramin Mahila Sirjansheel Pariwar in Sindhupalchowk, to train people on constructing better shelters for those who lost their homes in the earthquake.  In Nepal, men are usually involved in construction work, so this is new knowledge for many local women. Around 20 women have been trained in shelter construction in Sindhupalchowk alone. 

Meanwhile, Thami hopes to build many more shelters—and to apply her skills to reconstructing her own house, which was partially damaged in the earthquake.

No shelter, no privacy

Three months since the first earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, 2015, thousands of people still live outside in temporary shelters made of tarpaulins, bamboo, and metal sheets. Living outside in communal shelters has been challenging especially for women, as they face risks of sexual abuse and difficulty maintaining personal hygiene. 

In June, Oxfam and Care jointly surveyed women living in these conditions in different earthquake-affected areas of Nepal. They found women fear abuse from both men within their community and from strangers. Single women are either staying with neighbors or have asked their relatives to stay with them in tents. Women are under constant fear that their young daughters are under high risk of abuse and assault, particularly during the night, with compromised privacy and security.

Radhika Majhi, 25, uses a bucket Oxfam provided in Khadgabhanjyang VDC-4 in Nuwakot district. She is now living in a temporary shelter made from CGI sheets and bamboo mats with her husband, in-laws and her five-year-old son. They lost their house, cattle shed and latrine in the 25 April earthquake. Oxfam has provided her with farming tools and a hygiene kit. Photo: Roshani Kapali

“The earthquake has been a curse for a single mother like me,” says 34-year-old Ratte Maya Chhumi Tamang of Chhampi VDC, Lalitpur, “My husband died a few years back and I have three small kids. Life was hard already, and after the earthquake, we became homeless. I don’t have any [men in my family] to help me; I managed to make a shelter for us using two used corrugated iron sheets.” 

Rebuilding and listening

In the initial phase of the earthquake response program, Oxfam provided gender-friendly hygiene kits (which contained among other things sanitary pads and chlorine tablets), emergency shelter kits like tarpaulins and ropes, built latrines with hand-washing stations, and agricultural baskets, which include seeds, seed vouchers, animal feed, and agricultural tools. As the monsoon rains set in during June, Oxfam shifted our focus to providing improved temporary shelters.

Laxmi Tamang in Sindhupalchowk has now moved into the improved temporary shelter that Oxfam and its partner organization built for her and her two young sons.

“My husband died two years ago when lightning struck. I didn’t expect anyone would build me a house,” she said. After living with her friends for some time in communal shelters, Tamang has finally moved with her kids to a new house. As of mid-July, Oxfam had provided more than 32,000 emergency shelter kits and more than 1,500 improved shelter kits. 

Oxfam is also working with local volunteers and experts to reach out to women and understand their needs, making sure their voices are heard. “In addition to building shelters, we have also been providing counseling services to help [women] come out of the trauma of earthquake,” says Bimba Bhattarai, gender partnership coordinator at Oxfam. Oxfam also partnered with Women for Human Rights, a local organization, to build Women’s Centers in six earthquake-affected districts. The centers provide counseling and referral services and need-based kits for women. 

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