Involving women in a meaningful way is the need
of the time to complete the reconstruction process
It was three years ago today, when a mega earthquake hit Nepal, taking lives of nearly 9000 people and damaging hundreds of thousands of houses and properties. Government of Nepal and governments of other countries supported in the response and recovery programs to help build back infrastructures and communities.
Like the government, development agencies focused their activities to target the most affected people with immediate and long term programs. However, it is a matter of fact that the pace of reconstruction was sluggish and a lot needed to be done. For better results, it would be worthwhile to first understand terminologies in the same manner.
Whom to target?
In the early 2015, it was a common voice that the “immediate response” should take a blanket approach, leaving no affected people behind. As the “response” transitioned to “recovery,” the notion shifted to “targeting” the most marginalized and vulnerable people. This was to consider men and women from very poor families, socially marginalized communities, and who had limited means of income and resources. But there are complexities in this definition, which is why there were disputes in getting people’s names listed in the first place as beneficiaries.
media should play a watchdog’s role
to see the
There are various levels of needs and challenges even in the poor and marginalized communities—based on level of education, geography and ethnicity. I read a report in 2015, after the earthquake, about how gender dimensions are different across different ethnicities. Although termed “upper-caste,” there are women under this categorization who cannot go out for work or speak their minds because their family members wouldn’t allow them to. At the same time, although termed “marginalized communities,” there are women who can go out and work without any issue. In such a case, who should our target be?
When talking about women empowerment, it is mostly seen that the ability of the women to confidently speak in front of people is highlighted. No wonder, it is an achievement that women who still hesitate to take names of their husbands come out of the social cocoon and put their issues forward and seek solutions collectively. However, it’s also about time that these examples are replaced as we keep talking about “transformative social change.” But again, in order to achieve this, you have to dig deeper to know the obstacles and conclude whether a transformation really happened. But this needs to be understood by every stakeholder, including media and the government agencies.
But what is a transformative social change? Literatures say it is a shift in collective consciousness of a society that produces better results. Let us look at some cases and try to analyze if they are positive transformations.
Case 1: People of a certain area did not have hand washing habits because of which sanitation was compromised and someone in their families would always fall sick. Now, they not only practice proper handwashing, but use toilets, maintain good hygiene and sanitation and rarely fall sick.
Case 2: People of a certain area had lost their houses in the earthquake. They were displaced for about three years; their issues and voices were raised by media and development agencies and as a result, they got support to build permanent houses.
Case 3: People of a district in Tarai would generally be prone to pneumonia and get ill under cold wave because they would not prepare enough for winter. Because of effective awareness programs, they now stock up materials to deal with winter, use them effectively and prevent illness.
Case 4: A woman leader used to bring her husband in public interactions to put “her” voices forward, through him. She received different kinds of training, got elected as a representative in the ward office, and now does not need her husband’s company in public forum.
All of these are examples of social transformation but do we all—government, media, development agencies—understand it the same way? Not likely. These are rather categorized as hardware and software programs.
Hardware vs software
While the governments expect development agencies to do more of hardware programs, such as construction of buildings and other infrastructures, development agencies on the other hand give equal priority to software aspects such as capacity building of people. Some organizations divide their plans and activities in certain ratio (60-40 for instance), some may prefer doing the software side only.
The nature and expertise of the development agencies should be weighed in before setting a benchmark. If an organization is an expert in building bridges, they should focus on infrastructures, while if an organization is changing the social norms, they should be allowed to do soft programs too.
If given flexibility and space to work as per the development agencies’ strengths, it would lead in a win-win situation as both the hardware and software sides are important for a community or a society to go forward. Government mechanism and media can always play a watchdog’s role to see the progress of the promised works.
To take the post-earthquake reconstruction forward, apart from doing the “big things,” the Government of Nepal, development agencies, civil society organizations, and the media should try to listen to each other, exchange and incorporate feedback, and understand the context in the same manner to set conducive environment to produce better results for the affected people.
It is imperative for countries like Nepal where natural disasters keep coming back to “prepare” the communities to deal with the challenges. An integrated approach to provide people resilient and sustainable livelihood opportunities, support in building back better of damaged infrastructures, and involving women in a meaningful way is the need of the time to complete the reconstruction process. The delayed reconstruction should no more be stuck in getting the terminologies right. If it does, the gaps are less likely to shrink.
The author is a Media and Communications Coordinator at Oxfam, Nepal