Government, UNFPA Nepal launch campaign for earthquake response and beyond
The United Nations Population Fund, with the support of Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare and 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 Women, Children and Social Welfare secretary 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," Tamang said, speaking on the occasion. "Ours is a culture where women and girls are revered," he said, adding, "We appreciate UNFPA's assistance in the wake of the disaster, as well as the role of Koirala in popularising the 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, UNFPA's interventions, including their Dignity Kits with sanitary pads, clean clothes and other necessities, help restore the sense of dignity and poise which in turn go a long way towards physical healing and safety, she said. "I am proud to be associated with UNFPA in my homeland, and pledge my support for UNFPA'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 like a torch to reduce the risk of sexual violence.
It will help women like Bipana, a 20-year-old from Kavre district, who 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 customised according to the country'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!"
Likewise, Sharmila Thapa, the mother of a six-month-old baby also from Kavre, agreed. "I truly appreciate that you are thinking of our unique needs," she said, adding, "Food is important, of course, but proper hygiene and decent clothes make me feel like a normal person again."
It 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, as the calendar approaches the one-month mark following the devastating earthquake of April 25.
UNFPA works with a number of implementing partners, including government agencies as well as civil society organisations 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 in the most affected areas.
"The challenges in responding to the earthquake are huge," noted Giulia Vallese, on the occasion. "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," she said, adding that UNFPA Nepal and its partners are in Nepal for the long haul. "Our work ultimately is guided, above all, by the simple, yet profound principle: Dignity First."