“Namaste,” said Bandana Rana, one of the key leaders of the women’s movement in Nepal, her country of origin and the home of her fellow activists Suvekchya Rana and Uma Shah.
Rana, Rana, and Shah were recent guests to JDC’s New York headquarters, traveling halfway around the world to discuss Nepal’s recovery from April 2015’s devastating earthquake, the country’s worst in nearly 80 years.
Following the quake, emergency aid was quickly delivered to the capital of Kathmandu, but hard-hit remote villages suffered greatly from a lack of access to basic necessities like food, water, and electricity.
And when disasters strike, women face a much higher risk of rape, violence, and sex trafficking, especially in rural Nepal.
That’s where JDC’s disaster response efforts came in, providing relief and medical supplies – including shelter, nutritional items, sanitation, and water – for survivors of the catastrophe.
Focusing on ensuring that the most vulnerable populations affected by the crisis, like women and children, were protected and cared for immediately and in the future, JDC partnered with Saathi or “friend,” an organization established in 1992 to address the myriad challenges faced by Nepali women.
“After the earthquake, we met with a JDC representative, who was quick to respond to all of our needs. Not only did JDC provide us with immediate support and key resources, we came together to assist women in gaining new livelihoods; provided access to temporary safe spaces, psycho-social support, healthcare, and social services; and established strong networks throughout these communities,” said Uma Shah, founder and president of Saathi.
JDC brought its years of experience of working with global communities after disasters, with knowledge extending to programs designed to assist women in learning new livelihood skills as well. Many Nepalis lost their homes due to the quake — but because many women were home-based workers, they also lost their workspaces during the crisis. Therefore, they needed access to skill-based training to better provide for their families.
Additionally, through working with partners across the earthquake affected area, JDC built ten schools, a water system, multiple check dams, six thriving community and childcare centers, and two fully accessible health clinics —all of which are still active today.
“These community centers offer a secure environment for women to work freely, be creative, and learn about their rights. Also, gaining the ability to work from home gives them the power to negotiate for themselves; having an amplified voice is powerful,” said Suvekchya Rana, senior program manager at Saathi.
While enabling Nepali women to advocate for themselves and rid stigmas related to gender bias and domestic violence is key, so is engaging men in the process. One of Saathi’s current initiatives is integrating men in peer education programming, in addition to getting soccer players involved in issues related to equality for all on a national level.
“Over the last 14 years, Saathi has seen firsthand the sheer resiliency and strength of women in Nepal,” Bandana Rana said. “While many obstacles remain, we are continuing to make progress in changing the public perception around key issues.”