Sources

Fighting Sexual Assault In Rubble Of Nepal Earthquake

In the tent cities that arose after the earthquakes, women are learning to protect themselves from sexual assault and violence in the camps.

Earthquake survivors in Kathmandu
Earthquake survivors in Kathmandu
Rajan Parajuli

KATHMANDU — The open field of Chabel in northeast Kathmandu is filled with tarpaulin tents. They house many people who are still displaced after the massive earthquakes in April and May that destroyed nearly half a million houses.

About 50 women have gathered in a large circle in the open field, where they closely watch policewomen acting out an attack.

"When someone tries to pull you, force you, they will try hard and you also need to be strong to react," police officer Pramila Khadka explains. "If you look weak, then it's a problem."

Police in Nepal have started these self-defense lessons in response to several cases of rape and sexual assault and an increase in sexual harassment inside the camps.

"Today and yesterday we taught them different techniques to protect themselves," Khadka says. "Tomorrow I will teach them how to grab an enemy's neck and make him fall to the ground. Many women have also told us that their husbands also pull their hair and beat them. We will teach them what to do when someone pulls your hair."

The participants are then divided into pairs to practice. Sajana Lama, 21, has been staying in a tent for a month after her rented room in Kathmandu collapsed during the earthquake, which also reduced her home in the Ramechhap district to rubble.

"I felt I really needed to learn this," she says. "We are unsafe, especially in the evening and night when we are alone. We have heard about rape and violence. Strange boys tease us and try to touch us. I used to try to avoid it and run. But now I know how to hurt the person if necessary."

Dr. Renu Adhikari, the chair of the Women Rehabilitation Center, has been traveling with her team to all 11 earthquake-affected districts to help women stay safe from possible violence.

"The earthquake has made things worse, but on the whole, men in our society tend to have a mindset where they think a woman's body can be used as a commodity," she says. "This is the reason for this program."

At the training session, 30-year old Tashi Doma wants to learn how to escape and run away. She said she needs to do that every day at her home. "At my home, my brother-in-law hits me, my husband hits me," she says. "I am living with pain. The training has given me confidence — now I think I can protect myself and and run away in time before I am injured more."

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