By women, for women, of women
The lockdowns imposed as a measure to contain the spread of COVID-19 have resulted in heavy challenges for migrant populations. Left to their own defence against the backdrop of a rapidly spreading disease and being several miles away from home, most migrants have been forced to make their way back home on foot, or wait long hours until government-arranged transportation became accessible. Upon their return, especially in the case of those returning from foreign countries, most were put up at government-run quarantine centres before they went back home.
In Nepal, one quarantine centre has been set up and run by Women for Human Rights (WHR), a national-level women’s rights organization, in collaboration with the Government of Nepal and with some support from the UN Women (in the form of food and personal protective equipment). With an all-woman staff, this centre houses about 47 women, all under quarantine. Founded by Lily Thapa, WHR has opened its offices as quarantine centres across 21 districts in Nepal, having begun with their office in Budanilkantha, Kathmandu.
The initial round had 21 people, including men, but when it became difficult to manage both men and women in the same quarantine centre given their unique needs, it was clear to WHR that they had to make a change. The team reached out to the Government to approve their office-space-turned-quarantine-centres as a women-only facility, with an all-woman security team. With the approval in place, the team began administering the centres with dedicated attention to the unique needs of women in the context of the pandemic. The centres are entirely run and managed by women. The residents are given dignity kits, food, and personal protective equipment, and are also provided shelter if they are not able to return to their homes for any reason.
The spread of COVID-19 has also resulted in an additional challenge: one of stigma, among those that have been infected. For example, returnee migrants have been prohibited from coming home by neighbours and landlords – for fear of being infected. In addition to this, women continue to face the adverse impacts of the economic downturn as a result of the pandemic. Having lost their jobs in the countries they returned from – for example Kuwait – these women are now looking at a challenging future ahead and are hoping for work or loans to start enterprises of their own. Acknowledging this, the WHR centres have also begun encouraging their residents to register their skillsets in the appropriate ward office in order to avail government-provided employment programs.
Establishing and running women-only quarantine centres became especially important in the wake of an incident of gang-rape in a quarantine centre that led to the arrest of a healthcare worker and two volunteers. Gender-based violence is steadily on the rise in Nepal, with the lockdown. Several women have been forced to live with their abusers. According to the Women’s Rehabilitation Centre, Nepal, as many as 465 cases of GBV were reported between March 24 and May 29, 2020. Having women staff on the rolls and ensuring that the unique needs and challenges that women face in times of disaster remains an important part of action protecting the interests of women needing quarantine – with WHR leading the way.