Women in the front lines to build back better

Rita Dulal got a masonry training from Oxfam and partners in Sindhupalchowk

Rita Dulal is a 26-year-old mother of three girls from Sindhupalchok who recently got a formal training on masonry skills from Oxfam and partners. “Earlier, we used to put heavier stones on the upper parts of the houses, but now I know that it is wrong to put heavy stones on the roofs. My technical knowledge has increased,” she said. Photo by: Bipana Dhimal/Oxfam 

"I used to carry bricks and make mortar only; now I can make walls and rebars (reinforcement of steel bars) for concrete."
Rupa Bisunkhe

Sudin Pradhan in Lalitpur

One of the major challenges the earthquakes of 2015 put forward was rebuilding damaged houses, building them in a way that would make them withstand any such future tremors. The Government of Nepal has come up with strict building codes and the houses need to be constructed by trained masons. It is estimated that more than 20,000 trained masons (as per the Post Disaster Needs Assessment report of 2015) are required in the country for the construction works. Oxfam in Nepal is trying to contribute to build that workforce.

From January 2016-November 2016, nearly a thousand masons have been trained by Oxfam and its partners to construct earthquake resistant houses in seven earthquake districts (Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, Gorkha, Sindhupalchowk, Nuwakot, and Dhading) with the goal of “saving lives now and in the future with enhanced resilience for vulnerable women and men at risk of, or coping with, disasters.’’ Of these trained people, a hundred are women.

The construction industry in Nepal is male dominated and women issues are hardly taken into account, and there are discrepancies in the wages as women are systematically paid lower  compared to their male counterparts.

Rita Thapa and others clearing a site before starting the mason training. Photo by: Bipana Dhimal/Oxfam

In construction works, women are mostly engaged in the most simple labor works like sifting sand, carrying bricks, and crushing rocks into smaller stones. Oxfam in Nepal wanted to break this trend and started providing masonry skills training to women. In September, a training was conducted only to women  in Lamatar, Mahalaxmi municipality in Lalitpur district to help them build earthquake resistant infrastructures. "I used to carry bricks and make mortar only; now I can make walls and rebars (reinforcement of steel bars) for concrete," 22-year-old Rupa Bisunkhe of Lamatar said after the completion of the training.

The women were trained on how to lay foundations, raise columns, fix cross beams, put ties, set proper connections, and erect walls that would finally ensure a resilient structure. Maiya Thapa Magar from Lubhu said the training had given her new knowledge of making stronger houses. “I stopped the construction works at my home so that we could put bands in the wall to make the house stronger.” Shuvadra Shrestha (40) from Sudal said, "I have implemented the knowledge I acquired from the training in the projects I am working on.”

The week long training was conducted on a community land with the permission of ward secretary where the participants built earthquake resistant models so that the public could see how safe houses would look like.

Women in Lamatar placing ties in right way to align the steel bars of pillars to provide additional strength. Photo by: Sudin Pradhan/Oxfam