Women in Nepal are living in fear of abuse because of the lack of privacy and security afforded by temporary shelters, Oxfam said today.
According to research Oxfam conducted in Dhading district, women and adolescent girls feel at risk of physical and sexual abuse in overcrowded temporary shelters where there is often no privacy or solid walls. Communal toilets and unlit areas were also cited as insecure places. In many of the worst-affected districts, multiple families are living outdoors under tarpaulins or structures made from metal sheets. Poor access to health services and clean water is creating a health risk, especially for pregnant women.
The situation is particularly worrying for single women–often widows and divorcees–who are commonly isolated within their communities. Such women get little support from communities to clear debris and build more permanent shelters. They also find it harder to access loans and compensation without the backing of a male guarantor. UN Women estimates that there are approximately 318,000 female-headed households in the 13 worst-affected districts of Nepal.
Cecilia Keizer, country director for Oxfam in Nepal, said: “Women are living in fear of physical abuse in temporary shelters. After living through two massive earthquakes, this situation is only compounding their trauma. Women’s safety and security concerns must be the top priority for the Government and aid organizations.”
Oxfam has been conducting focus groups in rural areas to ensure women's needs are being heard and placed at the centre of the earthquake response. So far this has involved distributing gender-sensitive hygiene kits and building separate toilet blocks for women and girls. Oxfam has also been providing counseling, and advice on maintaining hygiene to prevent diseases through radio programs.
Sunita Tamang (not her real name), 35, from Sindhupalchok district, lost her husband two years ago and her house in the first earthquake. She said: “Who would build me a house, as I have nobody? My husband died two years ago. I don't have money to build my house.” Oxfam and its partners were able to build a shelter for her and her two young boys.
Lily Thapa, Executive Director of Oxfam's partner Women for Human Rights (WHR), said: “With the technical and financial support from Oxfam, WHR is now constructing centers for women in eight villages of three districts to provide a common platform where women can share and learn about risks. Through the project, WHR is also providing psychosocial support and assistance to acquire legal documents such as Earthquake ID cards and citizenship certificates. We are also providing medical and other referral services and helping women to participate in cash-for-work schemes as well as recovery and reconstruction programs.”
Oxfam has put gender issues at the core of its work in all the three sectors (water and sanitation; food security and livelihoods; and shelter) of its earthquake response program. Moreover, Oxfam and WHR are working with district authorities to build women’s leadership and meaningful involvement in the relief and recovery efforts through the Women Centers.