Arming girls with tools to stay safe in post-earthquake Nepal
On a cold November day in Laprak, Nepal, seven girls stand onstage in front of their community singing and dancing to a song they wrote about sanitation. The fog hung so thick, the girls almost disappeared in it, but their voices carried out to the crowd: “Pay attention to hygiene, You could save your life by being clean!” Small children imitated the girls’ dance steps, as their teachers clapped and beamed with pride. A class 9 boy accompanied them with loud thwacks on a traditional Nepali drum.
It has been a tough year and a half in Laprak with few occasions to celebrate. Most of the families have only lived at this displacement site since an earthquake and landslides ripped through their villages last year, taking everything in their path.
“That was the day of sadness,” says one of the young performers, Srijana Gurung, of April 25, 2015. “People were running and shouting from fear. It was hard to find a safe place. I felt like we would die soon.”
14-year-old Srijana’s family decided to stay on their original lands, despite losing their house and the risk of more landslides. Her friends, who had moved to the camp, told her about how they had to deal with violence and the consequences of alcohol abuse in the close quarters of their temporary shelters. The girls said they were sexually harassed by boys too.
This is a common occurrence after disasters, when lack of safe shelter and disruptions to normal social networks put women and girls at greater risk of exploitation. In response, the European Union Humanitarian Aid Department has funded “Her Turn” workshops for adolescent girls that empower them to recognize and prevent such risks. Implemented by People in Need’s local partner, Hamro Palo, the workshops also teach girls about health issues like menstrual hygiene management, and safety concerns like trafficking and child marriage. “Some families think it’s safer for their adolescent girls to be married, but in reality child brides are at a higher risk of domestic violence, sexual abuse, health complications from early childbirth, and they are very likely to drop out of school,” says PIN Programme Manager Ola Perczynska.
“I knew about human trafficking, but I didn’t know how to avoid it. I learned that if a stranger has come to the village offering us something good [like a job outside] we should be skeptical,” Srijana Gurung says. She also learned not to fear reporting suspicions to the police. “I used to think that we shouldn’t report cases to the police, that I would get in trouble from them.”
Aasmani Gurung, another one of the young singers, is bringing what she learned back home, like convincing her family members to brush their teeth twice a day, and even tackling domestic violence. “I used to think that when parents fight, I should cry,” the 15-year-old says. After learning the meaning of “domestic violence” she recognizes it had been happening at home, and there are ways to address it. “We can go to a trusted person for help,” she says.
For girls like Aasmani and Srijana, teaching their parents, let alone standing in front of their whole communities, is a big deal. It’s not something Aasmani says she would have done before the workshops. “I’m much more confident than before.”