As the calendar approaches the one-month mark following the devastating Nepal earthquake of April 25, the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare (MoWCSW) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), together with UNFPA Nepal Goodwill Ambassador Manisha Koirala, have launched “Dignity First”, a campaign that captures the essence of the life-saving work needed to support pregnant women, new mothers and their infants, and girls affected by the disaster.
The Secretary of MoWCSW, Dhana Bahadur Tamang, UNFPA Nepal Goodwill Ambassador Manisha Koirala and the UN Population Fund’s Representative for Nepal, Giulia Vallese, jointly launched the campaign by pronouncing “Dignity First” and its Nepali version “Vipatma parda jahile; Mahila ko maryada pahile” at a function in Kathmandu today.
“Each of us needs to be proactive in preserving the dignity of women and girls in an emergency situation,” said Secretary Tamang, speaking on the occasion. “Ours is a culture where women and girls are revered. We appreciate UNFPA’s assistance in the wake of the disaster, as well as the role of Koirala in popularizing this important theme.”
“The Government of Nepal and UNFPA’s support for these vulnerable populations covers a range of issues, from reproductive health to the prevention of gender-based violence,” said Manisha Koirala, the legendary Bollywood star and social activist, and one of Nepal’s most prominent global citizens.
“But at the heart of this work is the concept of ‘Dignity First’ – the dignity of women and girls whose lives are shattered must be restored together with their physical health and wellbeing. Indeed, Government of Nepal and UNFPA’s interventions, including their Dignity Kits with sanitary pads, clean clothes and other necessities, help restore this sense of dignity and poise which in turn go a long way towards physical healing and safety. I am proud to be associated with UNFPA in my homeland, and pledge my support for the UN agency’s work now and in the future.”
When women and girls cannot move around freely following a humanitarian disaster because they lack sanitary pads and other essentials, it becomes all the more difficult for them to access other support including food aid and health services. The dignity kits also include safety items such as a torch to reduce the risk of sexual violence. Take 20-year-old Bipana in Kavre district, for example. She gave birth just weeks before the earthquake left her and her baby homeless. Her husband, like so many men across Nepal, had left Nepal to seek better prospects elsewhere for him and his young family. Bipana, like thousands of other women, received a UNFPA Dignity Kit customized according to Nepal’s sociocultural setting.
"I thought that we would be provided only with food aid," said Bipana as she received her dignity kit distributed jointly by UNFPA and the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare. "But this package that you've given me is really very valuable!"
Sharmila Thapa, the mother of a six-month-old baby and also based in Kavre, agreed. "I truly appreciate that you are thinking of our unique needs. Food is important, of course, but proper hygiene and decent clothes make me feel like a normal person again.”
This is an underlying message for UNFPA’s campaign: by ensuring the dignity and safety particularly of affected women and girls, we are empowering them to play a role in rebuilding their lives and communities.
Besides Dignity Kits, UNFPA provides a range of other services, from creating women-friendly spaces to help protect women and girls at camps for the displaced and other environments, to vital reproductive health services that include safe childbirth in a clean environment, as well as contraceptives, medicine and other supplies that women and girls might need at this time of crisis. Distribution of the Dignity Kits is one entry point for the delivery of this more comprehensive service package.
“The challenges in responding to the earthquake are huge,” noted Giulia Vallese. “The sheer numbers of women and girls who need support, the logistical challenges in getting services to them especially as the monsoon season is fast approaching, the need to raise sufficient funds and other resources from donors to ensure we can sustain our response well into the future. UNFPA Nepal and its partners are here for the long haul. Our work ultimately is guided, above all, by the simple, yet profound principle: Dignity First.”
UNFPA works with a number of implementing partners, including government agencies as well as civil society organizations including youth groups, to ensure that its services reach beneficiaries across the hardest-hit districts, including some of the remotest areas in Nepal.
Some 1.4 million women of reproductive age have been impacted by the earthquake across the 14 most affected districts which are currently being prioritized by UN agencies in agreement with Government of Nepal. Of these women, an estimated 93,000 are pregnant, of whom 10,300 are expected to deliver each month. Over 1,500 women may experience pregnancy-related complications requiring C-sections. In addition, more than 28,000 women may be at risk of gender-based violence.