NEPAL: Telling the Story of Women Survivors

By Sangita Thapa

Sangita Thapa survived the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that shook Nepal. Today, she’s on a mission to share the voices of the women who are at the heart of the devastation.

Sangita Thapa | Nepal

“After the birth of nani (baby), I came to my mother’s house. Then the earthquake hit.”

Under the shelter of a tin tent in Sipadol, Bhaktapur, Dibya Laxmi (25) breastfeeds her 15-day-old baby as she begins to share her story with me. She is just one of many new mothers who have been impacted by the devastating 7.8 earthquake that shook my homeland in late April.

“Since then, I stayed at my sister’s,” she continued. “Everyone was living in a tent because both my husband and mother’s houses were destroyed. Then my father and brother made this tin roofed tent to avoid the coming rain.

“Since all our things are covered in the rubble, I do not have food to eat, which is affecting my health and my baby. I eat chiura (beaten rice), or whatever is available, and now my milk is not sufficient for baby. Neither my baby nor I have been able to sleep here. How am I to take care of her? Without a home, I do not know how I am going to make it.”

Across 39 districts, at least 8 million people have been affected by the biggest earthquake to hit Nepal in 80 years. The quake injured more than 16,000 and killed 7,652 people (1,209 in Kathmandu alone) as of May 8, though that number is expected to rise as the rubble is cleared and rescue work extends to remote areas. A total of 279,234 houses have been completely destroyed, according to the Home Ministry.

As I talk with Dibya, I realize what the numbers confirm: Women and children in quake-affected areas have been hit hardest. UNICEF recently announced that 1 million children are in need, and, according to UNFPA 126,000 pregnant women and girls have been affected.

I walked to Bhaktapur, a severely affected district, to inspect the situation of quake survivors. Women and their families, now homeless, are taking refuge in tents and camps set up by WOREC, an NGO working for women, the Red Cross, and local youth clubs. I saw more lactating mothers living in unhygienic conditions. They cradled their babies—some as young as 16 days old—in their arms.

I spoke with Binita Silakar (26), a mother of a 5-month-old child. The baby appeared fine except for her tears—which may have been dueto the sun reflecting off the tin roof, making for intensely hot conditions.

“It is not easy to live here with a small baby,” Binita said.“We lost clothes and other essential things in the earthquake. These tents will be of no use soon when it starts raining. I do not know how we will face those days.”

Women are giving birth in appalling conditions due to a lack of basic reproductive and maternal health services. I heard the story of Bharati Gurung, a 19-year-old woman from Dudhpokhari, Lamjung. After being carried to the nearest health post, which was devastated by the earthquake, health post workers helped her to deliver her baby. She lied over a plastic sheet on the cold ground of a school and gave birth after seven hours of delivery pain.

Back in Bhaktapur, I am reminded that it is not just pregnant women and mothers, but all women and girls, who are suffering. A teenage girl in camp shared that she was particularly concerned about her period and related hygiene due to the lack of water.

I spoke to Bishnumaya, a 76-year-old woman, who lamented, “At this age of my life, I am more frustrated than ever to see my house turn into debris in front of my eyes. My house is destroyed; my family dispersed. How many days will this tent shelter my family and me? How much food will be provided? I have no idea how we are going to make another house.”

Already, I’ve heard reports of rape and assault. It is known that following natural disasters the risk of gender-based violence increases. During the terror of the earthquake, a woman in Kathmandu was raped on a bus on Monday. I heard murmurings of two cases of sexual violence in the camps, though these were not reported to officials.

Efforts must prioritize women like Dibya, Bina, Krishnamaya, and the teen girls I met. They are at the heart of the devastation and must be given special care and attention.

The Department of Women and Children under the Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare have been striving to bring together development agencies like the UN, local NGOs, and private institutions to determine how best to reach survivor women and children and facilitate long-term, lasting relief services.

Still, the government has been heavily criticized for its slow response. And while the international community has provided hefty relief materials, they are not reaching the neediest in the most remote areas of rural Nepal.

It is important that relief materials include sanitary pads, baby food, nutritional food for mothers, warm clothes, shoes/slippers, along with other relief materials. Many rural women may not be aware of using sanitary pads, hence cotton clothes can be sent for immediate relief in rural parts.

With the devastation of its ancient temples and Devals, cultural heritage, and the deaths of thousands of men and women, my homeland is suffering in pain like never before. As I mourn the deaths of those valued lives and pray for their departed souls, I humbly urge all of you to come in solidarity to support my country and help those still alive.

Let’s join hands to rebuild my beautiful land and make the dreams of these homeless women come true. Let’s take steps together to bring back the smiles of these survivor women. Let’s hear their voices. Let’s help them overcome suffering. Let’s raise hope.

Let’s help.      


Dive Deeper: You can connect directly with Sangita Thapa on World Pulse. If you are interested in donating to relief efforts in Nepal, you can visit World Pulse's Resource Exchange, where several World Pulse members, including Sangita, have shared opportunities to contribute.

[Note: World Pulse is not responsible for any communications or transactions that occur on or through the Resource Exchange. Requests for funding that appear on the Resource Exchange are authored and posted by the World Pulse community and not by World Pulse, and therefore World Pulse cannot vouch for the legitimacy of any post. You should exercise caution and due diligence when communicating or transacting with others (including choosing to fund a project or to buy an item) via the Resource Exchange.]

 

Comment on this Editorial

Comments

This is wonderful citizen journalism, Sagita. Thank you.

As someone who lost my home in the worst hurricane in USA history, Hurricane Katrina, I empathize deeply with the people of Nepal.

I have shared it on Facebook.

Yvette

Thank you dear Yvette for your love and concern for Nepal. As this misfortune happened to my homeland, i too now feel and share the pain of all those who ever had to face such disaster. I just pray that no disaster would occur again, ever. It is horrible, more so for those who are left without family and home. Thank you for sharing this.  

Hugs from Nepal,   

Sangita 

Our heart goes to the women of Nepal who must cope up with the loss of loved ones, properties and livelirhoods as a result of the massive temblor. You are right, cases of gender based violence often rise as an aftermath when people are trying to cope with the sense of loss, helplessness, hunger and anger..We experienced that when our city suffered from the killer flood that left thousands homeless and where people are gathered in ofterntime crowded evacuation or temporary camps.It is important that women must be organized and educated in evacuation camps on how to ensure their safety and that of their children as they are usually the potential victims. 

MCL

Dear MCL,

Thank you for your kind wishes and prayers for Nepal and Nepalese. Different NGOs, INGOs, UN, government mechanisms as well as individual efforts have been working together to address the needs of such women survivors at present. The safety and protection along with health, nutrition and sanitation needs of these women have been given high priority. We hope to cope with the situation and become normal again.  

Regards,

Sangita 

Dear Sangita,

Thank you for your focus on the needs of women and girls in the aftermath of natural disasters. Too often I feel as though the differing needs of individuals are lost in the chaos of a disaster, especially when that disaster is repeated. I hope that the momentum of support continues to increase and that care for all can be provided soon.

Best,

Lauren

Dear Lauren, thanks alot for your warm wishes and sentiments for Nepal and Nepalese. I'm sure we will rebuild Nepal with the best wishes and emotional supports of friends like you.

Hugs,

Sangita  

Dear Sangita,

I am just finishing translating your piece for the French version of the website, and will share it with French-speaking friends as well afterwards. You wrote a great piece in what are certainly extremely difficult circumstances - thanks so much for taking the time to inform us and also direct us towards some links for donating in your post on the Resource Exchange. 

I work in the field of sexual and reproductive health and sometimes it is difficult to explain to people how natural disasters can have very specific gendered impacts - your article is THE BEST thing I ever read to show this in a very clear, yet very efficient way. So I will also share that with my colleagues tomorrow.

All my thoughts for you and all Nepalis, loads of strength and courage!! Aurore

Dear Aurore,

Thank you so much for your translation into French. I'm so glad to know that WP friends from all over the world are with Nepalese while we mourn the deaths of our beloved people and destruction of our homes and heritage. Thanks again dear sister for sharing it among your circle. I truly appreciate your support.  

With love,

Sangita   

Dear Sangita jee, This is wonderful cases of gender based violence of women survivors at present.

Thank you for your focus on the needs of women and girls in the aftermath of natural disasters. 

Dear Sangita,

You are a real powerful woman just look at the meaning of the word woman. 

W-wonderful mother

O-outstanding friend

M-marvellous daughter

A-adorable sister

N-nice gift from God

Sister thank you so much for your story, especially the part that women in the rural areas may not even be able to know let alone the usage of sanitary towel. Be encouraged my sister desperate times require desperate measures, but at the same time Rome was not built in a day.  All shall be well. The problem said is on the way to solution. Women should not die when bringing life to this world.  It shall be well.

Thank you

Nyapaul

Nyapaul

Dear sister Nyapaul,

Thanks alot for your positive words! I am doing what i can within my limited reach to help these women. I hope togather we will be able to rebuild Nepal. Thank you again for the moral support you have given in this time of gloom and despair. 

Hugs, 

Sangita 

Dear Sangita,

Your words are so powerful and made me feel deeply connected to what is happening in Nepal. My heart bleeds for these women and girls, and you have opened my eyes to the specific needs they have in the aftermath of the earthquake. 

May the Nepalese people be connected with the amenities they need and feel surrounded by compassionate community during this time.

Warm regards,

Lisa

Lisa Kislingbury Anderson 

World Pulse Volunteer Coordinator

Dear Sangitha,

Thank you for sharing your powerful voice.

It is so important to hear directly from the people who are at the forefront.

I completely empathize with you as Kashmir, my place also recently went through similar hard times with two floods in a gap of seven months and the situation is still so grim.

Like in any war or other disasters, women and children continue to be the worst hit and suffer multiple damage.

Stay strong, my dear.

Take care

Blessings from Kashmir

Aliya Bashir

Dear Sangita,

I sympathize with the people of Nepal, yet I can not hold back celebrating your survival. You have aptly captured the reality on the ground in ways that help one visualize and understand the sad realities on the ground. Hope must be kept alive as the world joins Nepal to help Nepal rebuild.

Stay safe!

Olanike

Dear Sangita,

Thank you so much for sharing and for the good work you are doing.Its very encouraging to know that somenone cares enough about peolpe going through devastating times.

I empathise with the people of Nepal, especially women and girls, living under such cruel conditions.

Keep up the good work.

 

Brenda