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Women leaders in post-earthquake Nepal

On April 25th 2015, Malati Maskey was in Kathmandu at a five- day training for women leaders when the first 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck. Thousands of people lost their lives, and hundreds of thousands more lost their schools, homes and livelihoods.

As the Knowledge, Policy and Governance Manager and focal person for women’s rights at ActionAid Nepal, Malati stayed in a damaged building for three days following the earthquake to take care of the 25 rural women who had come for the training, but were now far from their families and feared for their safety.

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After the immediate disaster, Malati has continued to be integrally involved in ActionAid Nepal’s ongoing emergency response, recovery and preparedness work, which places women’s leadership at the centre of its approach.

“We’ve been able to provide evidence that women can be contributors to emergency response programs, they’re not just survivors. And this has been clearly realised by the communities,” says Malati. “Many women have sacrificed their lives to save other lives. That was the finding of our study which we shared with the community, and they realised that yes, definitely women are first responders.”

In the three years since the earthquakes, Malati has worked with ActionAid Nepal and ActionAid Australia to create Women Friendly Spaces where women can develop their knowledge and enhance their skills. These women are now more visible in their community, and the communities are able to see the contributions they are making. Many of the women became representatives of their local communities, taking on leadership and policy roles.

“After this earthquake, now the women’s movement are integrating the humanitarian agenda in their movement, and also talking about women’s leadership and their contribution. They are talking about how women can be contributors in humanitarian response, and it was not like that previously.”

Malati believes that one of the most notable changes that has occurred is in the mindset of people and policy-makers. Where women have always been considered as vulnerable and second-class citizens, they are now being seen as leaders and contributors to society.

“Next time, the threat to women will be reduced. Because women know how to cope with that situation. Women’s access to information was not there previously. But now they are in Disaster Risk Reduction management committees, they know how to do preparedness, so their death threat will be reduced. The immediate response systems will also be in place – the community has those mechanisms so that response will be immediately activated. So many of these vulnerabilities will be reduced.”

Find out more about how we’re working with other women like Malati

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