"Create better conditions for single women post quake"

San Nani Magarati, an elderly widow from Changunarayan, who lost her house after the earthquake - Credit: Martin Grahovski/Oxfam

‘I am alone, no husband, no children, so I’m worried about where will I live. I am wondering how much will it cost me to bring down my half-damaged house, and then what
will I build the new house with’.

This feedback from a focus group participant in Samari, Nuwakot District, sums up the many worries single women face after the earthquake. Oxfam together with its partner Women for Human Rights commissioned a research into the impact of the disaster on single women. 

Its conclusion:  As the reconstruction and recovery efforts have started, there is a powerful imperative and a new opportunity to create the much needed better and more just conditions for single women affected by the earthquake in Nepal.

Of the estimated 850,000 houses hat were destroyed or damaged during the April 2015 earthquake, 26% belonged to female headed households. In addition, 375 out of 446 health facilities, covering 1.4 million women and girls of reproductive age were affected. An estimated 93,000 among them were pregnant when the earthquake struck.

The existing deep gender inequality in Nepal meant that women and single women in particular, suffered most in the aftermath of the earthquake. They were also least able to be heard, and to receive adequate assistance in the response.

Poor participation

It is not surprising that women in Nepal, as in most parts of the world, are disproportionately vulnerable during and after disasters, including the 2015 earthquake. This document summarised the findings of a survey of 495 single women-headed households.  As a start, women’s participation in the earthquake relief and reconstruction was poor: only 22.4% respondents in the research had been consulted at any time. One male official rationalised the lack of women’s participation this way: ‘We ask women to participate but they are reluctant to. They say they cannot speak or read and write. They want to give thumbprints rather than signatures.’

Disaster-affected families often lose personal documents necessary to access relief, and rebuild their lives. In Kathmandu as much as 24.4% of the women covered by the research had lost property papers, and over 49% citizenship certificates.

Only few (16.2%) had assistance to clear house rubble. A majority received a Government grant for building a temporary shelter, or material such as tents and zinc sheets; many, however, were severely hampered in their efforts by the fact that they were alone in carrying out house repairs. Feeling of insecurity and anxiety living in such precarious and insecure accommodation were widespread.

Promoting women's land registration

Most women had a strong desire to relocate, driven by fear of further tremors, lack of relief assistance, or by conditions of scarcity in temporary resettlements that, with social networks disrupted, undermine people’s capacities to mitigate the effect of the crisis through mutual aid. However, women can lose out ownership of assets of single women, to reduce their vulnerability to disasters, boost their resilience, and redress the prevailing economic discrimination. A start could be made by implementing cash-forwork and cash-for-training programmes, including those imparting non-traditional skills, the report recommends.

Promoting women’s registration on land ownership certificates and other forms of land tenure documentation are key. Policies that discriminate against the property rights of single women should be reformed.

Gender-specific needs related to health and hygiene, particularly reproductive and menstrual health, must be satisfied.  The government must act on the fact that the mental health concerns of women differ from those of men, and they include fears associated with pervasive gender-based violence. 

At a broader level the government should develop a national strategy for the advancement of women in disasters, supported by action plans and resources. As part of this, a special emergency fund should be established for vulnerable and marginalized single women who are so often left out of essential support in natural disasters and other crises, the report concludes.