Single women await reconstruction reliefNuchemaya Maharjan fears she will not be able to bear the winter inside a small cow shed she has been living in after the April 25 earthquake destroyed her house.
Nuchemaya Maharjan fears she will not be able to bear the winter inside a small cow shed she has been living in after the April 25 earthquake destroyed her house.
The 63-year-old survived the monsoon in the shed of her neighbour at Tarkeshowr, but fears she will not be able to get through the winter. She said she has asthma and her condition gets worst during winter. “The house was the only property I owned. Seeing it destroyed at an age where you can no longer work or save in order to rebuild it pains me a lot,” she said.
It has been six months after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake toppled thousands of houses, including Maharjan’s, but the government has not initiated the reconstruction works. Formation of the proposed National Reconstruction Authority is in limbo after the government failed to bring a replacement bill to renew its legal mandate. The bill is yet to be passed by the parliament.
The earthquake victims observed the Dashain festival in temporary shelters out in the open, and now they are bracing for chilling winter.
“It will take my son many years to save enough to rebuild the house. I was hoping some assistance would come from the government, but it has remained silent. The only thing we received from the government was Rs 15,000 as immediate relief cash,” Maharjan said.
According to Nirmala Dhungana, president of Women for Human Rights, Single Women Group, women, and single women in particular, have been hit hard following the disaster and are also likely to be left out during reconstruction due to an oppressive patriarchal system and laws which differentiate between women’s and men’s citizenship rights, leaving socio-economic status of women very poor.
“Widows, divorcees, single mothers and women who have been abandoned by their husbands have been finding it difficult to reconstruct their houses. The government needs to bring out a special policy in order to make it easier for them to get access to services provided by the government,” Dhunganga said.
WHR, Single Women Group has demanded a special fund of Rs 50 million from the government to address the needs of single women.
According to the 2011 census, there are 498,606 single women in the country. It is estimated that around 2,000 women lost their husbands in the earthquake. As per the WHR, Single Women Group, single women are usually living in substandard housing units and with lower income. In Nepal, there are more than 50,000 directly-affected single women (widows) and female household heads.
Earlier, the government had come up with a plan to help single women by building them houses through community-based construction, and providing them options such as masonry and electrician training, so that they can build their own house and also earn income. However, the programme was never implemented.
Many of the government plans aimed at uplifting the condition of women never reach their target group.
For instance, 34-year-old Kabita Lawaju of Bhaktapur, who lost her husband and two children in the earthquake, could not receive the relief money as her in-laws abandoned her and refused to sign the relationship document.
“I wasn’t able to claim the relief money because my husband’s family did not agree to sign the document proving relationship with my husband whom I lost in the earthquake,” Lawaju said. “They even refused to let me live in their tent after the earthquake. I stayed with my sister for some weeks before taking shelter in my parents’ house.”
Lawaju’s tragedy did not end there. She went on to lose her job at a local savings and credit cooperative firm. Today, she is struggling to get her life together, carrying in her heart an unconscionable loss of her husband, their two children and a perfect family life.