What happened after COVID-19 hit: Nepal

Dhana: “I put my savings into the land purchase. I want my rightful share.”

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, 243 million women and girls globally were abused by their intimate partners in the past year. Since the pandemic, with lockdowns measures, countries around the world have seen an alarming rise in reporting on violence against women, especially domestic violence. UN Women is working with women on the front lines who are responding to the shadow pandemic of violence against women and girls every day. “What Happened after COVID-19 hit”, brings you some of their stories, and how our programs are backing solutions that leave no one behind.

“It all fell apart following an impromptu trip with my husband to Jhapa, a city close to my home in eastern Nepal. While we were there, my husband asked me to sign papers at the Land Revenue Office under the pretense that he was transferring recently purchased land to my name. On our return home, he informed me that he had partitioned our land and was planning to marry another woman. He left and never came back.

I was confused. I was scared. Our marriage wasn’t perfect, but I had hoped we would find happiness again. I remembered his denials after I saw pictures of the other woman on his phone and his call history with her. I remembered how angry he would get whenever I put up pictures of the two of us on social media.

I had sacrificed a lot for our family. I quit my job to raise our two young daughters without any support from my husband. I put my savings into the land purchase. He would not have been able to buy the land without my financial and domestic work contributions. I want my rightful share.

Refusing to be deceived by my husband, I turned to my brother for help. He told me about the Forum for Women, Law and Development and I called their toll-free helpline. They filed a case and advocated in the district court for me. I’m hoping for a positive outcome.”

UN Women responds through programs on the ground

Women’s land rights are key to their economic independence and better decision-making power within families. In many parts of the world, research shows that lack of land rights makes women more vulnerable to gender-based violence. Dhana*, 38, is among the 218 gender-based violence survivors who have received life-saving assistance from the ‘Provision of Emergency Legal Assistance to Survivors of Gender-Based Violence in the COVID-19 Context’ project run by Forum for Women, Law and Development in Nepal. Since September 2020, UN Women has supported the project as part of its emergency response to the coronavirus crisis that has resulted in increased violence against women and girls.

Puspa Poudel, legal officer for the Forum for Women, Law and Development, counsels a client over the phone from her office in Kathmandu, Nepal.Photo: UN Women/Uma Bista

The vulnerability of women and girls to violence has been compounded by disruptions to public services, including social services, access to phones and helplines, police and the courts. These disruptions, along with movement restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19, have created additional barriers for survivors in accessing essential services. In a significant milestone, the Government of Nepal is facilitating the online registration of gender-based violence cases with the police and the online court proceedings.

The project also provided legal consultations, assistance with filing cases with the police and representing survivors in court – all free of charge. Survivors are now able to access the legal services via phone, Facebook messenger, email or google forms.

*This is not her real name, the name has been changed to protect the identity of the survivor.