Asia

How Nepal quake turned women into builders

Sanumaya Kumal at building site in Bidur in Nuwakot district
Image caption Nepal needs women like Sanumaya to help rebuild

Reconstruction in Nepal has been slow since a devastating earthquake two years ago. But in some rural areas women are breaking with tradition and picking up tools to speed things up.

Sanumaya Kumal does everything from carrying sand and bricks, to digging foundations.

In a badly affected district north-west of Kathmandu, she and other women are helping rebuild houses damaged by the quake.

Women have traditionally been limited to household chores but with many men working abroad, Nepal faces a lack of manpower at a crucial time - hence Sanumaya's move into construction.

"I am very happy with my job. I can do everything that a male mason can do," says Sanumaya, who used to work on a farm.

Her other tasks include building walls, roof-fitting and plastering.

Image caption Sanumaya says she's just as good at the work as the men

According to official estimates, nearly 1,500 young Nepalis travel to the Gulf and the Middle East every day in search of jobs.

Officials say this has created a labour shortage locally and is even holding up reconstruction and essential work on schools and health centres.

But in the areas worst hit by the 25 April 2015 earthquake, women are gradually taking up prominent roles in reconstruction.

More than $4bn has been pledged in post-quake aid but progress in one of the world's poorest countries has been painfully slow.

The disaster killed nearly 9,000 people and damaged a million houses.

Image caption Rural women can earn a good wage building - and they say it's safe

Various national and international organisations have been helping the women gain the skills they need to build.

And the women say they are earning a decent living, as well as being happy that they are taking part in important national work.

Sanumaya was one of eight women the BBC found working at the building site in the town of Bidur in Nuwakot district.

Her fellow construction worker Srijana Kumal says she likes the work because the pay is attractive.

"Women are facing a lot of problems when they go abroad for work," she told the BBC.

"Almost all the houses in the villages are damaged. We have a lot of work to do here and the working conditions are very safe."

Sanumaya and her friends are making about 1,200 Nepalese rupees ($11.50; £9) for a day's work in their new roles, a decent sum compared with other manual jobs in rural Nepal.

Image caption Many of Nepal's men are working abroad, or don't have the right building skills

The Post Disaster Recovery Framework states that Nepal needs nearly 60,000 skilled building workers to complete the reconstruction of houses within five years.

However, officials say that as well as the manpower shortage, many existing construction workers do not know how to build houses to earthquake-resistant specifications.

There are no reliable figures on how many women are currently involved in reconstruction in Nepal.

But the United Nations and other donor agencies who are providing training to construction workers say they have given high priority to enrolling women on their courses.

And Sanumaya and her colleagues have no shortage of work.

"With the reconstruction going on, I am busy almost every day," she says.

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