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Dalit women leading disaster preparedness in Nepal

Posted by Tess Dico Young Global Humanitarian Gender Adviser

12th Oct 2012

Gomati Dhami. President of Drinking Water & Sanitation Users Committee. Checking chillis in vegetable garden irrigated by waste water. Nepal. Jane Beesley/ Oxfam

On the eve of The International Day for Disaster Reduction, Oxfam's Global Humanitarian Gender Adviser Tess Dico Young reports on a project that enabled women from marginalised Dalit communities to lead sanitation and disaster risk reduction activities in Darchula Distruct, Western Region, Nepal.

On the eve of The International Day for Disaster Reduction, Oxfam's Global Humanitarian Gender Adviser Tess Dico Young reports on a project that enabled women from marginalised Dalit communities in Nepal to lead sanitation and disaster risk reduction activities.

The participation of women from the Dalit caste communities is one of the major achievements of the 2010 WASH and DRR project run in partnership by Oxfam and Sankalpa Youth Club (a local NGO) in Nepal. The project targeted rural farming communities in remote areas (2 to 19 hours walk from the nearest road) with a high proportion of poor, vulnerable, and conflict-affected people. Through the Participatory Capacity Vulnerability Analysis (PCVA) with 11 vulnerable communities in the Darchula District, this process helped to ensure that the necessary DRR measures could be incorporated to ensure protection of infrastructures from hazards .The men and women from the communities and the team from Oxfam and Sankalpa agreed to work together based on their prioritised needs such as improved latrines, setting up of Participatory Learning Centres, upgrading a gravity flow Drinking Water System and integrating DRR measures: fencing structures, dry stone masonry and tree planting around the water source. The location of reservoir tanks, pipeline alignment and tap stands were selected to avoid landslide and flood-prone areas. The other innovation was to capture waste-water at the water point to be used for small-scale irrigation and livestock uses.

Hansa, community public health promoter washing her hands. Using cover water barrel distributed through Oxfam/ECHO. Jane Beesley/ OxfamTo ensure sustainability the project invested in building local capacity through the formation of Drinking Water and Sanitation User's Committees (DWSUC). Between 9 and 13 committee members were elected. Many of the committees were led by women. In each DWSUC, 2 members were selected to become Village Maintenance Workers and 50 % were women. They received training on basic care and maintenance of the drinking water systems. This project is also linked with relevant government and non-government agencies and the water systems were formally registered by the District Development Committees.

"Previously, when something went wrong with the pipeline we had no idea how to fix it ourselves. Whilst we were waiting for the pipes to be repaired we had to go far to collect water. If there was any disruption in the pipeline we would have to drink dirty water. I have gained experience and confidence to do this work and I'm not afraid to fix problems. I have become very skilful so if another community has a problem with their water system they approach me and ask me to go and look at it and they pay me for my work. I'm investing this money in my children's education."  Janki Devi, Village Maintenance Worker.

The Fifteen discussion classes known as Participatory Learning Centres (PLCs) were set up, in which 559 participants including 437 women attended two-hourly sessions three times a week. At the sessions, various issues were discussed regarding water, sanitation and hygiene and other social and rights issues, including domestic violence and caste and gender discrimination. After each discussion, participants developed a plan for addressing the problems they had identified.

The major achievements of the PLC were an empowerment of the communities especially women and the Dalit community members: 

  • Hygiene and sanitation awareness and practice improved in the target communities such as hand washing, household water treatment and safe storage, use of latrine, etc.
  • Formerly illiterate participants of PLCs were able to read and write their name and speak freely.
  • Community participation increased in project works. Both men and women being equally responsible for construction works.
  • Participants of the PLC in Naktad Community received written commitment from the VDC Official for financial support for declaring their VDC as 'No Open Defecation'.
  • Some gender and caste discrimination reduced. The Chaupadi is a social malpractice in which women are compelled to stay in cowsheds during their menstruation period and prevented from consuming milk and milk-based products. Women in the target communities started to stay in the main house and also started to take milk and nutritious food during their menstruation period.
  • The positive outcome of this project is attributed to the holistic approach starting from a thorough analysis of the context and impact of the conflict to the immediate and long-term needs of men, women, girls and boys. The social exclusion of women and the caste system was another factor that is given focus.

Chhepari Kohli (19) Community Public Health Promoter (Dalit Community). Nepal. Jane Beesley/ OxfamMeaningful participation of all the beneficiaries at all stages especially at the assessment and planning were crucial to finding out their needs and aspirations. The immediate needs and response on WASH were used to bridge the long term sustainability of the communities by integrating appropriate resilience projects. The link with local authorities enabled both parties to start working together and Sankalpa - Oxfam's local NGO partner - was key to facilitating this participatory process and linking Oxfam and the communities. One of the key outcomes of the project is the impact of the capacity building that enabled Dalit women to increase their technical skills, confidence and leadership.

"I used to be very afraid of speaking in front of others but now I have the courage to talk to anyone. I can make my community aware of things that not only improve their health but I hope their position - the Dalit community is exploited by the higher castes and I want to help change that."  Chhepari Kohli, Community Public Health Promoter.

More case studies on gender and DRR are available in Oxfam's new publication Gender Equality in Emergencies Programme Insights, this publication and a range of other useful resources are available to download from our International Day for Disaster Reduction page.

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