By Magdalena Mis
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Post-quake recovery in Nepal should be an opportunity to change patriarchal attitudes and stop women being pushed to the margins of society, a U.N. organization promoting women's equality said on Thursday.
Two quakes, on April 25 and May 12, killed 8,832 people, injured more than 22,000 and forced tens of thousands into temporary shelters. The government has estimated the cost of recovery at more than $6.6 billion.
The quakes destroyed more than 500,000 houses and pushed 700,000 additional people into poverty. Already one in four of the 28 million Nepalis lives on less than $1.25 a day and patriarchal attitudes weigh heavily on women.
"Single women are the poorest of the poor and are the most affected," Cecilia Aipira, an expert with U.N. Women who contributed to the Nepalese government's Post Disaster Risk Assessment report, said on Thursday.
"They are the ones that need support the most, but because of gender inequality they're the ones most likely to be excluded or marginalized through recovery programs," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Fiji.
Aipira said that if housing reconstruction programs were based purely on documented ownership, 80 percent of women would be excluded, meaning they would be "punished twice" by the disaster, losing their homes and unable to own rebuilt ones.
Nepal says that about 26 percent of houses damaged by the quakes belonged to households headed by women, who will find it hard to rebuild their livelihoods because of limits on opportunities, on ownership and on access to economic resources.
"They have a double disaster in the sense that they can't rebuild because they're completely excluded from the legal ownership of the house and the land," Aipira said.
Nepal's interim constitution states that men and women should have equal rights to their ancestral property, but women are still being marginalized "at every stage" by traditional patriarchal attitudes, Aipira said.
There's a need to create awareness that women can actually own land and housing, a right that has been submerged by patriarchal attitudes to such ownership, she said.
"It will be women who will rebuild Nepal and that's part of the reason why we're asking for specific measures that address the inequalities that women face," she said.
Aipira said that to ensure that women are not excluded from reconstruction programs, projects should be based on individual cases rather than male assumptions of ownership.
Women in Nepal own just 19.17 percent of houses and land, according to government figures.
India and China pledged nearly $1.5 billion in aid for earthquake reconstruction in Nepal on Thursday at an international donors' conference in Kathmandu.
In total, Nepal received pledges of $4.4 billion in aid at the conference, two-thirds of the amount needed for reconstruction over five years.
(Reporting by Magdalena Mis, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)