Research & Analysis

In Nepal, rising gender violence shadows COVID-19 pandemic

In October, the UNSC will mark 20 years since its landmark resolution 1325, which for the first time enshrined the essential role of women in securing and maintaining peace. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the promise of the WPS agenda provides a framework for sustainable peace and which is only possible due to the dauntless women’s movement. However, the voice of women in general gets overlooked and less considered. The UNSC Resolution 1325 urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all UN peace and security efforts. The situation seems satisfactory to some extent since the adoption of the 1325 resolution in 2000.

Nationwide Lockdown, Confinement and Domestic Violence

The Nepal government was well informed about the coronavirus since its outbreak in Wuhan, China. However, there was little seriousness by the government regarding the pandemic even after evacuating 175 Nepali students from Hubei province in China in February. While the government could not speculate how contagious the COVID-19 is, it also failed to safeguard against the health risks challenging women and the other minority communities. The Nepal government had to be seriously responsive during the time when its Northern neighbour was facing a deteriorating situation. On the contrary, an internal dispute has remained more dominant than the disease within the Nepal Communist Party and its government. In ignoring the most pressing issue owing to the spread of the COVID-19 during the crucial period, cases have continued to rise. The mental and physical preparation was needed with remarkable prescience. At least, the government had to prepare infrastructures accordingly through which everybody could feel safe and secured.

A nationwide complete lockdown was imposed in Nepal for nearly three months in 2020 to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in Nepal. The resulting lockdown hit both formal and informal sectors. The impact has already started in a number of sectors like education, health, tourism, trade, production among many others. The situation at home from the confinement has mainly contributed to a deteriorated situation of women and young children in the family. The alarming spread of the virus caused havoc in the educational system. With a temporary closure of educational institutions and depending only on distant and online education, there were discrepancies in the execution which further created conflict in the family. Moreover, the pandemic forced women and young girls to stay at home increases the risk of domestic violence. Violence against women, girls, and child sexual abuse are increasingly being reported during the lockdown and beyond. Gender-based violence has become a shadow pandemic alongside the COVID-19 contagion in Nepal. 

The Nepal Police spokesperson Kuber Kadayat has stated that rape cases have surged during the lockdown from mid-March to mid-September. At least 1,221 cases to seven cases per day were lodged during this period, according to Kadayat. There are innumerable rape cases being reported during this pandemic. On 23 September, a 12 year-old-girl from Bajhang district in western Nepal went missing and her semi-naked body was later found at a nearby temple after a long search. It was later proven that the girl was sexually assaulted prior to her death. Different forms of violence including social violence, rape, murder, suicide, sexual misconduct, and cybercrime have been increasing during this period. 

Poorly managed quarantine centres and rise in gender-based violence

In order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, many schools, small hospitals, and community buildings have been converted into quarantine centres. However, the centres are poorly managed and are often overcrowded with no basic services. The poor qualities of these centres have been the cause of more stress and worry especially for women and girls. While the centres lack separate toilets and sleeping facilities for men and women alike, it could not be safe places as rape cases are reported from some centres. One of the media reports says that a woman who was staying at a quarantine facility in Lamki Chuha Municipality-1, Kailali was allegedly gang-raped. However, this is just one of the many instances when a case has been reported. The government’s response to the pandemic seems very discouraging, especially when it comes to safeguarding women against violence.

Need to institutionalize punishment against gender violence

To seek justice for rape victims, women activists have time and again launched street protests and have also run social media campaigns against such cruel activities. More importantly, women lawmakers have conspicuously demanded harsher punishments for rape convicts. However, the recently promulgated Constitution of 2015 has not prescribed a death penalty. The women lawmakers in the parliament have also formed a nine-member task force to review the existing laws and have also suggested how to incorporate the death penalty for convicted rapists. Making this issue a subject of discussion in the nation’s parliament and even demanding capital punishment of the culprit definitely mitigates such activities in near future. Recently, the government has also endorsed an ordinance with some specific and stern legal actions against the acid attackers with a provision to compensate the victims. In societies where human rights are protected, peace will prevail and civilians will feel safe and secure. 

Loss in livelihoods leading to interpersonal violence

The global health emergency and the economic crisis due to the pandemic have put the livelihoods of Nepali workers at risk. Many of them are losing their jobs to wage cuts. Financial hardship resulting from the outbreak has been directly affected by those working in formal and informal sectors. Economic insecurity has triggered conflict and interpersonal violence. Among the huge number of jobless migrant workers from abroad, an extra risk of violence against women and children exists in Nepal. The financial crisis is the major issue to generate conflict at home. As unemployment remains one of the biggest problems that has compelled thousands of Nepali youths to migrate in search of livelihood opportunities which has imperiled their life and created chaos. The state needs to emphatic about the dire situation of its citizens by generating jobs. In this regard, the employment program led by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has also failed to address these important issues in spite of being in operation for two years.

Challenges for women and children

Empowering women and girls are key to social transformations. Gender equality can make a difference in individual lives and the entire society. However, the pandemic has been the main obstructions to this task towards the empowerment of women and society. While they are only dealing with the typical challenges of confinement and remote work, it has also hampered their academic and professional life.

Domestic violence, risk assessments, and safety planning in the workplace, unpaid or offering only half wages during a pandemic, unsafe workplace culture are the major hurdles to women empowerment. Therefore, early intervention is essential to enable women and children to overcome these challenges. Equitable representation of women in various sectors will undoubtedly achieve the true goal of UNSC resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security.

 

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About the author

Kabi Adhikari | NIAS

The author is the CEO of the non-profit organization GalliGalli and also researches gender issues in Nepal.

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