The 8.4 magnitude earthquake that struck Kathmandu on 15 January 1934 caused massive property damage and claimed a total of 8,519 lives of which 4,669 were women. Similarly, out of the 5,000 people that were killed in the 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan, 60 per cent were women. The number of female casualties also outnumbered men by a big margin in the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia. Among the 202,656 killed, 181,252 were women.
Eighty years after the 1934 earthquake, Nepali women are still as vulnerable as ever. Their role in society is still largely confined to the four walls of their homes.
Women continue in their role as the caretaker of the house. The responsibility of looking after children and the kitchen still sits largely on a woman’s shoulder. Since they are largely home-bound, women are the ones who are most prone to be the victims of a natural disaster like an earthquake.
Bhuwaneswori Parajuli, a gender specialist with National Society for Earthquake Technology Nepal says, “Women are still bound by social and cultural norms and this is why they are likely to be the most affected. A large portion of women still lack basic education and further their limited interaction with the society because of their domestic responsibilities means they are less aware of the prevention actions that should be taken.”
Men dominate most community earthquake preparedness groups, and there is little female participation. “Women are too busy at home,” explains Sunita Shakya, president of Kirtipur Women’s Group, which has been working to enhance community earthquake preparedness.
“When you make the women of the house aware of the dangers, the awareness about prevention and preparedness is spread to the entire family.” “Only when a woman is educated and aware, is the family safe.”