Women-led responses to COVID-19: Report from Kathmandu, Nepal
Women’s organisations around the world report COVID-19 and the urgent action they’re taking to protect their communities
Sumeera Shrestha leads Women for Human Rights, an organisation which works to secure the political, social, cultural and economic rights of single women in Nepal. Women for Human Rights led major community response efforts to the Nepal earthquakes in 2015, aligned with its long-term advocacy objectives for the rights and inclusion of single women. The organisation represents more than 125,000 members.
Sumeera reports from Kathmandu, Nepal, where she is working from home.
The PM made an announcement on Friday – a speech for Nepali citizens – a formal announcement that from Monday this week, the lock down has started – it will go for nine or ten days, and might be expanded after that. Travel restrictions have now been
implemented. The shops and roads are empty.
Everything is closed except for emergency services like hospitals, and essential services categories specified by the government. You have to work from home.
Earlier this week, there was a press conference by the Minister of Health – they said that another patient has been found with coronavirus, and made assurances that the government is acting.
We decided last Thursday that Women for Human Rights would provide our office and shelter homes to the government for quarantine. We can accommodate 365 people in our shelters.
On Friday, our board members went to the Ministry to let them know - our President handed over a commitment letter to the Deputy Prime Minister. Now, some of our staff members are in the office, preparing it for quarantine – they’re working to disinfect it.
The other thing we’ve been doing is awareness raising – we were doing this a week or ten days back – working with single women who are trained as health care workers to bring women together to have dialogue about coronavirus. Now, physically meeting is not possible, but we are circulating information online.
We are part of many online groups on Facebook. Coronavirus help groups, that kind of thing. There is so much news there – sometimes untrue news, so our communications team and other staff have joined different groups to track what is going on and to see the balance. If there are negative things going on, it is our responsibility to make the moderator of the group aware and to hold them accountable.
One thing we are doing is preparing a list of things that are required for quarantine in collaboration with the municipality. We are circulating a page for support – there are shortages of sanitizer, masks, etc. We are trying to connect the links and ensure pooled materials. We’re doing it all online.
Our biggest concern is that there are many people who are working on a daily wage. Also, we are worried that violence will increase because women are at home with their perpetrators and have less mobility.
And working from home – if you take my example, then care work responsibilities that you have to do get heaped on your formal workload.
Women are almost always in a care giving role. If you are diagnosed with corona, its women who will be there to provide support. They are the ones who are at greatest risk – due to their pre-determined social role.
Right now, in Nepal, there is not a concern about gender issues [in the coronavirus response]. It’s a blanket approach. It’s important to study the impacts on women – and also the impacts on migrant workers who have been denied travel because of this pandemic.
Here in Nepal, there are different teams and committees that are being formed and mobilised to address the different needs, necessities of the community. We need to ensure women's engagement in these committees, to make decisions, and we need to act accordingly.
There are many women’s groups, and if we can mobilise them, they have that power to ensure that the families of their members are in quarantine and fulfil their isolation duties, which prevents the transmission of virus.
The Feminist Humanitarian Network is working to facilitate shared learning and support amongst its members on the frontlines of the response to COVID-19 in countries around the world. To join or support the FHN, email email@example.com