Nepal: women on the front lines to build back better

Rita Thapa and others clearing a site before starting the mason training. Photo: Bipana Dhimal/Oxfam
Rita Thapa and others clearing a site before starting the mason training. Photo: Bipana Dhimal/Oxfam

One of the major challenges the earthquakes of 2015 presented was rebuilding damaged houses in such a way that they would withstand future shocks. The Government of Nepal has introduced strict building codes that require trained masons. It is estimated that more than 20,000 masons (as per the Post Disaster Needs Assessment report of 2015) are needed for the reconstruction.

Oxfam in Nepal is helping to build that workforce. In coordination with our local partners we trained nearly one thousand masons from January 2016-November 2016, one hundred of them women, to construct earthquake resistant houses in seven earthquake districts (Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, Gorkha, Sindhupalchowk, Nuwakot, and Dhading).  Our main goal is to save lives now and in the future and improve resilience for vulnerable women and men when facing the threat of natural disaster.

Breaking with tradition in a male dominated industry

The construction industry in Nepal is male dominated, women are systematically paid lower wages than their male counterparts and mostly engaged in basic labor such as sifting sand, carrying bricks, and crushing rocks into smaller stones. We wanted to break with this tradition by providing masonry training to women. In September, we conducted women-only training in Lamatar, in Lalitpur district, to help them build earthquake resistant infrastructures. “I used to carry bricks and make mortar only; now I can make walls and rebars (reinforcement of steel bars) for concrete,” 22-year-old Rupa Bisunkhe of Lamatar said on completition of the training.

 Sudin Pradhan/OxfamWomen in Lamatar placing ties in the right way to align the steel bars of pillars to provide additional strength. Photo: Sudin Pradhan/Oxfam

The women were trained to lay foundations, raise columns, fix cross beams, put in ties, set proper connections, and erect walls that would ensure a resilient structure. Maiya Thapa Magar from Lubhu said the training had given her the knowledge to build stronger houses. “I stopped the construction work at my home so that we could put bands in the wall to make the house stronger.” Shuvadra Shrestha (40) from Sudal said, “I have implemented the knowledge I acquired from the training in the projects I am working on.”

The week-long training was conducted on community land with the permission of the ward secretary. Participants erected earthquake resistant models so that the public could see what safe houses should look like.