The research explores women’s rights at the intersection of land and disaster. It is the launch of an iterative exploration of the role and power of gender as embedded within legal, political, economic, cultural, and social power structures – in this first iteration as operationalized to institutionalize access to and control over land, and its denial – in order to build more resilient and equitable individuals, households, and communities that are better prepared to face an ever-increasingly turbulent and complex 21st century.
Conducting fieldwork nearly nine months after the 2015 Nepal Earthquakes, Ashley visited one of Nepal’s most a ected districts, Sindhupalchok, and discovered an all-women community and the absolute destruction that can be imagined to follow two major and sequential earthquakes in the developing world. Their mostly mud-and-stone multistory homes destroyed in entirety, now salvaged rock piles ; their temporary shelters hastily erected from salvaged wood framing, metal sheets, and thatch – not a man in sight. This encounter precipitated a dawning realization, after years of similar experiences of ever-more women dominated communities, of what is an increasingly global, undeniably socio-cultural phenomenon: boys and men departing their homes and families to seek better opportunities, while the girls and women stay behind. The resulting distortion of the gender demographic across geographies and cultures is startling – villages, towns, and camps everywhere seemingly inhabited only by women, children, and the elderly or impaired. All those who are en(able)d, leave. With a remittance economy designed to privilege male As the social construct of womanhood continues to trans- labor migration and today constituting nearly a quarter of form in manifold across a vast spectrum of roles and expecta- the national GDP, Nepal serves as archetype and case tions (often incrementally, occasionally in leap-and-bounds, study of distorted gender demographics within a relational converging and diverging on past, present, and future expec- risk geography, synthesized at the nexus of gender, land, tations ranging from traditional to progressive to erasure), and disaster. Around the globe the right to claim and this fieldwork presents preliminary findings advocating that control land and the resources land yields is one of the women’s equity and inclusion must be unequivocally main- most fundamental aspects to physical, economic (and streamed across humanitarian aid and development, therefore social), as well as psychological security and reframed as a driver of innovation and resilience and thus well-being. It is also well accepted that natural disasters demanding primacy in partnership models. Female-only a ect and disadvantage women more than men, an exten- issues and programs can no longer serve as proxy for wom- sion of the uneven cultural and social status that women en’s issues at large, and in fact, to their detriment. Instead, face globally. These trends were also largely validated in conceptions of women’s issues must expand both in theory post-earthquake Nepal, further exacerbated by discrimina- and practice, and be integrated across every sector that tory treatment towards women and other vulnerable touches women across the humanitarian and development groups as provisioned by the Government of Nepal’s disas- agenda to include education, healthcare, land tenure and ter management reconstruction policies, often implicating property ownership, citizenship and identify, livelihood... in these groups’ inability to procure and produce required fact, to include them all. documentation such as citizenship certificates, land and property registration, and on. The evolution of this work is similarly multi-directional and includes a more robust set of fieldwork across identified communities in Nepal to explicate the structural systems as a ects each respective group across these power structures. Both immediately and in the long-term, the application of this framework entails the deliberate and structural-intersectional reframing as to how aid and development sectors plan and program gender equity and social inclusion, not least of which demands the expanded role of women at every level.
Ashley C. Thompson