Women are most at risk after Nepal quakes

Women in Nepal will bear the greatest burden of loss following the recent earthquakes. The loss of home and a sense of place is one, but women are also at risk and vulnerable to traffickers and abusers. Programs we have sponsored in Nepal are working hard to help each other to overcome this adversity. 

By Beth Ellen Holimon
DFW Executive Director

For the last few months, I have been reading I Am Malala (youth version) to my two young sons.  They love Malala and my youngest calls her Malalala — a name you can sing.  Since our family has moved a lot, they related to Malala’s reminiscing of her bedroom in the house her family left in Swat Valley, Pakistan.  She describes it in detail — the softness of her quilt, her school trophies on the wall, and how she would tap on the wall to communicate with her friend in the adjoining house. She will never forget her home in Pakistan and her memories will take her to a mental place of comfort and belonging.

We all remember the place where we feel or felt the most at home, the sense of peace and comfort, the place where we belong.   Our sense of place and belonging has an enormous impact on our lives and each night I read about Malala to the boys, we are talking about the people living in tents in Nepal.

At the time of this writing, the greatest need in Nepal is shelter. The 7.8-magnitude quake struck on April 25, killing at least 8,150 people and injuring more than 17,860 as well as destroying 600,000 homes. The May 12th  7.3-magnitude quake came just as many were regaining a sense of security.

More than two million people have been displaced in Katmandu.

Natural disasters disproportionately affect women in many different ways.  In addition to the personal devastation of human loss, injuries, and homelessness, the human displacement has made women even more defenseless to poverty, disease, and economic inequality.    In natural disasters, more women are killed than men.  Violence against women increases. It becomes less of a priority to educate girls.

Right now, according to the Daily Mail and The Guardian, sex traffickers are taking advantage of the vulnerabilities created by the earthquake to convince desperate women and kidnap girls to sell to brothels in India and South Korea.  It is estimated that over one hundred thousand pregnant women are not receiving the healthcare they need and it cannot be predicted when it will be widely available again. In addition, an impaired sense of place causes anxiety, mood and behavioral disorders.

I think of how Malala feels about her home and how she could have lost her sense of trust and hope in the world when her life abruptly changed.  She was one.  I think we could all agree that Malala represents millions of girls and women who don’t get the escape, who don’t find the hope, and who don’t make it out alive.

For many of the women our grantees serve, losing a sense of place is just the beginning of the horrors they will experience.  The DFW family is invested in understanding this loss and supporting women and girls as they make the journey back to a sense of place and building a supportive community.

Featured Photo: Pregnant women in Katmandu after the second quake are not priorities for evacuation as rescue helicopters fly the injured to hospitals. Courtesy of the International Business Times.