Following the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal, the Government of Nepal launched a private housing reconstruction program for the affected people. This is an owner driven reconstruction which the homeowners have the initiatives on the type and size of house to be rebuilt and also the timeline. The government provide support as methodology already proven as success as in other countries such as in Indonesia following Padang earthquake 2009. But in Nepal there are some specific concern on the availability of skilled builders as many of young people are prefer to work abroad.
Draining of local workforce
For some people, this recovery program is foreseen to be unsuccessful, due to scarcity of manpower to work in reconstruction. For many years, Nepali working abroad is tend to increase as more income they expected compare to working in Nepal. The number of Nepali workers going abroad more than doubled after the country began promoting foreign labor in recent years: from about 220,000 in 2008 to about 500,000 in 2015[i].
In the villages the situation is even more challenging. Thousands of able-bodied men leave Nepali villages for cities and go abroad for employment and to escape poverty, many villages no longer have any adult men—only kids, women, and elderly remain[ii]. Therefore the ratio of women and old people become significant if we count the work force availability in the villages. Even most of the young people are unskilled for construction work. Hence the presence of women and old people seems will not give meaningful impact to the reconstruction progress.
Migration not only reduce the man power but also slower decision on when to start the house. Due to money mostly directed by the men who are the head of household.
Construction work is not for women - skeptic says
Even in not post-disaster situation, the presence of women in construction business are in small number. Women make up just 11% of the entire workforce, but even this figure includes many who work behind a desk, often in design, management or secretarial roles. On building sites themselves, it is estimated that 99% of workers are men[iii]. The current perception this construction is a male only job and this come both from the employers and from the society.
Twisting wires to fix rebar in place for earthquake-resistant bands on homes is a painstaking process - I've tried it! Fortunately Anu & the neighbours she's helping rebuild in #Rasuwa, #Nepal had lovely late-winter sunshine to work in this afternoon. Thanks @arwinsoelaksono! pic.twitter.com/rxWUowUnTZ— Leela Mulukutla (@LMulukutla) January 25, 2018
During the preparation of the reconstruction program the government launched a mason training programs. But even though women have been encourage to participate their presence still below expectation. Their range of participation may vary across the country but some evidence recorded around 5%.[iv]
Limited opportunity and increasing vulnerability
Fulfilling their responsibility as a family member, women will have additional burden due to disaster. They might work to clean out debris, work on their own house repair but at the same time still has to take care their children and doing house works. Their husband might lose their job due to the disaster which made them have to work for extra income to meet their needs.
If they want to enter the available job market in their villages they have to compete with their male neighbor who are losing their assets and jobs. These men would work for any kind of work available to get income.
One of the opportunity for everyone in the village is the construction work. The current workforce definitely are not sufficient to meet the demand due to massive reconstruction across the country. As happen everywhere globally this recovery program may take years. Growing number of skilled builders really needed in due course otherwise this recovery might be halted or even failed.
Even there is growing demand for builder and there are training which women can participate but it doesn’t mean that women easily to get job. Community acceptance still a serious challenge which hamper women to work directly in construction. Most of the people still perceived this work with wood, stone and cement is a men’s job.
Limited access in construction works for women might linking to limited access of income, if there is no sufficient job opportunity in the village. Furthermore limited purchasing power to basic needs and health. Then the highest concern is increasing their vulnerability if the women is single headed household with children in her family. The marginalized role of women in post disaster reconstruction further contributes to women's vulnerability in post disaster situations[v].
Empowerment the stairways for more opportunity
Women should have access to participate in any recovery activities including reconstruction works as per their needs or interest. Therefore they should be empowered with skills and knowledge in order the can enter the job market with fair competition. Government should provide access and mechanism in order they can contribute their skill to rebuild more robust houses in their community. Aside that disaster as a tragedy but disasters can provide an opportunity to redress gender disparities. Good practices are context-relevant and empowering, and use women’s skills and leadership to build resilience and Disaster Risk Reduction. There is a need to improve livelihoods, enhance community disaster preparedness, mitigation, and prevention, with the involvement of women and men[vi].
Therefore agencies who work in reconstruction should find the best strategy which can be implemented in their working area. Every disaster recovery in each country might be unique, so there is no guaranty on success by just copying the same strategy from other recovery program. But in every strategy this empowerment initiative should be emphasized. Aside from opening new opportunity for women the strategies itself will benefit the government, humanitarian organizations and research institutions working on women’s empowerment[vii].
But even there are good policies and good strategies, in reality the limited access still persists. The larger share of benefits and resources go to men while women continue to remain marginalized.[viii] Many research proves men still play a dominant role, not only in the decision-making process, but also throughout the entire response, reconstruction, and recovery processes[ix]
Therefore it shows there still a long way from policy level to the actual implementation on field level. There is still conception and old values hampering the process which hampering those empowerment strategies can be active and real. There should be initiative from grass-root level to tap the opportunity.
Small steps big impacts
Having certificate of builders training has no guarantee to have construction job. As mentioned above, challenge on acceptance still persists. There already proven initiatives which result made a big impact on reconstruction progress in Nepal. One of the essential milestones to start a house construction are land clearing and ground breaking. Rather than waiting for builders to do the job, a group of women cleared the land, broke the ground and made the foundation. Having seen that women worked later on other men in the community joined.
These people working in turn from one house to other house so all group member have their foundation finished. In Nepal it is called aalo palo or working in turn. A very small step, it is, but it brings recognition and appreciation. Women, too, can also work in construction. Time passed and then not only on land clearing and foundation work, they can work in steel rebar fixing [photo above] and concreting.
The idea is to make a connection between policy and strategy in country level to the community in the village level. It should produce paradigm shift in the community that empowered women can also work in construction if they are willing to do so. The women can fill the manpower gap due to many of the people are working abroad. Moreover it should not stop on the implementation level. Women should also participate and be involved in decision-making processes in a non-discriminatory manner. They must be fully recognized and supported to build resilience, reduce disaster risks, and contribute to sustainable development[x].
[v] Thurairajah, Nirooja (2013) Empowering Women during Post Disaster Reconstruction
[vi] Drolet, Julie et.al. (2015). Women rebuilding lives post-disaster: innovative community practices for building resilience and promoting sustainable development
[vii] Thurairajah, Nirooja (2013)
[viii] Thurairajah, Nirooja (2013)
[ix] Drolet, Julie et.al. (2015).
[x] Drolet, Julie et.al. (2015).