Ramifications of COVID-19 Crisis on Nepalese Women and Minorities

Image by: Anish Khatri

Author: Samiksha Neupane 

Violence against women, girls and minorities of any age and race is a gross violation of human rights. There has been a large and palpable outcry of human rights crisis in Nepal, especially from the lens of gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls even before the declaration of the COVID- 19 pandemic. A recent UN Women report stated that there has been an increase in the frequency of both cases related to domestic or gender-based violence as well as maternal deaths. Besides these pressing concerns, issues such as unemployment, limited mobility, lack of health care infrastructure – such as struggle to get beds in hospitals, non-COVID diseases treatment hassles, limited vaccination access of smaller group of people and political upheavals have hit harder. The insignificant response from the concerned authorities with regards to the management of the COVID-19 pandemic has also added to the psychological distress among people. This has not only impacted the life the average Nepali citizen’s life significantly, but it has also disproportionately worsened the existing inequities faced by women and minority communities across the country.

How has covid-19 specifically impacted the lives of women and minority communities?  

The restrictions on freedom of movement and physical distancing necessary to prevent contagion of COVID-19 is considered a necessary step towards control of the spread of disease. But such regulations and measures from side of government are haphazard and sloppy because it disproportionately limit women’s and minority group’s access to support group or seek assistance against injustice. First, they are home inbound with the perpetrators who are in most cases the family members, as uncovered by the National Women Commission (NWC) 2021 reports. The document also shed light on the relation of perpetrators to survivors who contacted the 24-hour toll-free helpline number established by NWC against gender-based violence campaign include 66% intimate partners (including spouses) and 16% other family members or caregivers. Additionally, the lack of private spaces for women also results in constant fear and lack of confidence to enquire about the pandemic’s effects, thus affecting awareness and prevention participation. Finally, financial incapability was found to be the cherry on the cake as 54% of the survivors are aged between 26 to 40 years.  

Delayed access to primary health care and education has worsened livelihoods of people leaving long term irreversible impacts. Due to the pandemic, people are suffering from an acute shortage of health care resources such as oxygen cylinders, medicines, and baby foods that are generally imported from abroad. This predicament has caused people to suffer on daily basis. Besides, there are fears of giving birth to newborns in hospitals during pandemic, turning the excitement of pregnancy into fear of COVID exposure. The unavailability of timely checkups has also further aggravated problems among masses. Additionally, a lack of reproductive health services and its inaccessibility due to travel restrictions is speculated to possibly lead to more unplanned pregnancies, unattended deliveries and unsafe sex practices, making the reproductive population more vulnerable towards communicable diseases. A 2020 UNFPA report suggested that only 58 per cent of births in Nepal were attended by skilled health personnel before the pandemic, which is expected to increase now, introducing the fear of further triggering a greater negative health impact at the country level. The decrease in educational enrollment and no education to government level school and college students will negatively affect the literacy rate and availability of skilled resources within the country. These have further ramifications of increased foreign labor migration, human trafficking, early marriage or child marriage and increase in social crimes, increase in depression and suicide rates etc. of different age groups in the long term.

Increased household responsibilities and unpaid service from women, unusual work timing, children being home due to school closures, sometimes shared otherwise fully bared household responsibilities, added pressure to ensure online class attendance of children, household works primarily been specified to women due to gender stereotypes and years long gender division of work has added to emotional and mental vulnerability of women with less or total unawareness of necessary coping mechanisms. Besides, both women and men who worked as daily wage earners, especially in the informal sector are hit at the core by the pandemic. Another possibility that women, particularly those who are home bounds are more prone to pandemic in a family (besides frontline workers), is because they are the primary caregivers to the infected members in most communities.

In the limitation of physical presence and mass gathering of people, as per officially announced measures, social media platforms have proved to become a stronger medium to share information, gain knowledge and raise voice against all forms of violence and discrimination. For instance, voices from popular social media artists and celebrities showed significant penetration especially in the month of June, raising voices against Justice for Sabita Bhandari as a continuum to justice for Bhagarathi Bhatta and similar natured victims. Their cases are still pending in court but the rhetoric in social media platforms like YouTube and TikTok have not only invited more attention from diverse communities, but also has misled the public due to the circulation of inaccurate and false content, shared seemingly in order to gain popularity as opposed to spreading awareness.  

Other than that, social media these days, especially during the mobility restriction period has provided the queer movement of Nepal and existing LGBTIQ+ communities a medium to find virtual space and connect to other peers who are looking for similar connections.  An article published by the Kathmandu Post from January 2021 titled – In Nepal’s growing queer movement, here is how asexuals are trying to amplify their voice, shed light on the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, also known as Aces, which is the largest platform of its kind in the country. The piece also mentioned Nepali Asexual, a popular Instagram page frequented by many asexual citizens in Nepal. In such ways, many asexuals across the country, a community that was previously very disconnected, are finding spaces to connect and communicate with each other.

On the other hand, the UN has issues warnings of online trafficking of people during pandemic keeping women and girls at high-risk group. As a report presented to the UN in Geneva on November 2020 by Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) revealed the dangers of online platforms as they have been a proven path for traffickers to track their preys and reach out to women and girls directly via instant messaging services. Women and girls with increased accessibility and feasibility to Internet have thus also become prone to exploitation as previous practices and methods of perpetrators to reach vulnerable groups are halted due to COVID. This has placed more threat towards school going children and support seeking women or the girls who tend to spend more time on social than they did before the pandemic. Consequently, relevant government bodies have warned tech companies and make urgent requests to set up necessary efforts required to control this issue of online trafficking during the pandemic period.

What has been done to discourage the prevailing violence and discrimination?

International communities such as the UN Women’s Rights Committee have called on governments and multilateral institutions to ensure women’s equal representation in formulating responses to COVID-19 and strategies to recover from the crisis. States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) have an obligation to ensure that these measures, taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic, do not directly or indirectly discriminate against women and girls. Given that the pandemic is moving forward longer than anticipated, with speculations of future waves of dangerous intensity entering the country, the process should be made actively more inclusive and progressive that before. South Asia, particularly India and Nepal, are currently expected to be hit by the third wave of the pandemic, which experts are speculating will have children as the high-risk group as elder populations are slowly becoming vaccinated.

A national level private-public collaboration among state institutions and civil society organizations, such as National Women Commission, Saathi, Transcultural Psychosocial Organization Nepal (TPO Nepal) and Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN) etc. are at place currently working in reporting the pandemic effects, managing shelter services, providing psychological counselling, and facilitating child related services.  These organizations have been actively engaging in research and information dissemination, especially relating to gender-based violence and its support mechanisms. Similarly, there are many other groups and organizations at the national level that are purely dedicated to conducting research and developing pandemic related information for the general public’s consumption.


The root cause of all forms of discrimination towards women and minority groups can be attributed to oppression that is historically and systematically inbuilt since long before the declaration of the Covid-19 pandemic. Such forms of oppression are generally reflected in both personal as well as professional settings where women and minority group have been discriminated based on social, political, and economic dimensions. Even though there have been many campaigns and drives dedicated to dealing with gender-based violence and discrimination, the problem is still looming across the country at large. The pandemic has further shown the importance of coming together to fight against discriminatory policies and systematic practices at large. Crucially, already existing systemic problems should be speculated upon and actively deleted from the policy level as it requires a larger intervention and involvement of diversified state organs and stake holders.   

While we are saying it is right time for action and ‘no one’ should be left behind, it is to considered that ‘no one’ includes everyone from older group people, people with disabilities, all forms of minorities, indigenous peoples, migrants, homeless people and those living in poverty etc. Besides, the pandemic has hit different groups of people disproportionately. Thus, while providing any kind of support or aid, the prevalent socio-economic inequality, the level of exposure to disease and ability to find assistance needs to be kept in mind while designing and executing interventions. For instance, a high caste woman might be educated but still lack access to support group. Similarly, a nurse might be more vulnerable from an exposure point-of-view. Similarly, a Dalit woman or a lesbian might have least access to vaccine due to the existing discriminatory social structures based on the prevalent high caste Hindu system. Therefore, this a most crucial time for inclusivity and non-discriminatory policies to be designed, addressed, and actively practiced.

Next, at the moment the accountability that government has shown in providing timely vaccines, providing isolation and quarantine facilities to the migrants, travelers and other health infrastructures to the people has been tragically low. There must be ways to make government responsive as well as responsible in dealing with crisis and its proper management. Active participation of leadership from different state and civil society organizations is thus now required to explore ways to make government accountable in this matter at the same time paying equal attention to safety measures against Covid-19. 

Technology is emerging as seemingly the best available platform to educate and support weaker sections of society at this point of time. Hotline numbers provided by women-based organizations, educational websites, health care websites are working with various partners as remote support options. However, these programs need to have safety plans and protection guidelines so that we do not push vulnerable groups into deeper non-escapable tragedies. Additionally, many of them have become activated on their own volitions, without adequate trainings of professional qualifications, which then opens the doors to vulnerabilities and potential unknowingly triggered problems.

COVID-19 is the biggest non-political challenge that our new federal system has faced after the formation of the wildly romanticized new Nepal. The crisis is not only an unprecedented challenge, but it is also an opportunity for local level government units to tackle with the context-specific crisis. Democracy will have a new name in Nepal if provincial governments take actual leadership in dealing with the pandemic socially and economically from their own respective levels. Not only are federal, provincial, and local level government bodies presented with the opportunity to activate channels of cooperation, but local level community or support groups also needs to be more active at the time, at least after a breakeven phase of the pandemic to explore ways to help people in need. For instance, a women’s cooperative can be an economic support group for those female citizens who have lost jobs and been pushed deeper in entrenched poverty.

Finally, it should also be noted that it is the individual responsibility of citizens across the world to help control the spread of COVID-19 from their own respective places within their own capabilities and scope of impact. The adoption of universally accepted prevention measures such as maintaining social hygiene, keeping mouth and nose covered with face masks, maintaining social distance, etc. would do a lot to align with the safety measures being promoted by governance bodies, community groups, and international transborder actors.

The views and opinions expressed in the piece above are solely those of the original author(s) and contributor(s). They do not necessarily represent the views of Centre for Social Change.

Samiksha Neupane holds a Graduate degree in Conflict, Peace and Development Studies from Tribhuvan University and a bachelor’s degree in Development studies from Kathmandu University. She is currently working as a part-time Research Consultant with Impact Limited. Ms. Neupane has her more than 5 years of work experience in the field of youth and professional development.

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