By Sapana Basnet Bista, Dr. Kay Standing, Dr. Sara Parker, and Shaurabh Sharma
Violence against women and girls (VAWG) often increases after disasters and humanitarian crises. This article presents evidence from Nepal, a country where notable progress has been made on gender equality, but where VAWG continues to be an endemic. The 2015 April earthquake in Nepal led to an increase in reporting of VAWG, and women and girls in camps and temporary shelters reported fear and insecurity instilled by risk of violence and lack of privacy. Grassroots responses to the earthquake showed how humanitarian aid, emergency health care, and local disaster responses can challenge VAWG while offering safe spaces for women and girls. Research since the earthquakes with activists and non-government organisations (NGOs) indicates how disaster response efforts face continuous challenges posed by VAWG. This article draws on interviews with grassroots activists and NGO staff in Nepal, and shares experiences and lessons learnt that can help in addressing, challenging, and minimising VAWG in emergency situations and humanitarian crisis.
This article is informed by thematic analysis of qualitative data from three separate studies, collected by employing semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions, and social media interaction with women and girls affected by the earthquake, women activists, and NGO staff.
Our research highlights a number of barriers to addressing VAWG, such as pre-existing vulnerabilities in low-income contexts, the breakdown of social/family networks, and lack of pre-crisis protection mechanisms. Further, our findings indicate that the cultural and socio-economic context influences women and girls’ experiences of violence during humanitarian crises. Our findings emphasise the importance of taking an intersectional and inclusive approach to ensure that all women, including the most vulnerable women and girls (those with disabilities, Dalits, older women, and single women) are included in prevention mechanisms, with a special focus on gender-based violence (GBV) risk assessment and protection interventions.
Based on our research in Nepal, we make recommendations to practitioners and policy makers for interventions which address VAWG in humanitarian crises.