The Multiplicity of Widowhood in Post-Earthquake Nepal: An Intersectional Analysis of Lived Experiences
Following the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal, certain parts of the population were disproportionately affected by the destruction due to entrenched social, cultural, political, and economic inequalities. This study centralizes the experiences of widows in Nepal before, during, and after the 2015 earthquakes. It draws on interviews and focus groups with widows conducted in Gorkha and Nuwakot districts—two of the areas most severely-affected by the earthquakes—to provide a nuanced understanding of how this status, through its interaction with other social factors, impacted each individual’s ability to cope post-disaster. Through an intersectional analysis, we find that certain social locations embedded in broader hierarchies—mainly marital status, age, caste or Adivasi Janajati, location, and class—overlapped with power structures manifested in gendered social practices including participation in the public sphere, migration, support from maiti/ghar, polygamy, child marriage, domestic abuse, and access to resources, which collectively influenced each woman’s post-earthquake realities. Through the use of vignettes, we illustrate the diversity of widowhood in post-earthquake Nepal and how unique constellations of power hierarchies and social relations determined each individual’s ability to cope post-disaster. We deconstruct the monolithic category of “widow” in Nepal to recognize this as a complex and dynamic social status and identity, which embodies a multitude of lived experiences that are anything but typical. Yet after taking these differences into account, we find that underlying structures of power and social hierarchies shaped the post-earthquake relief process, resulting in the exclusion of many widows and exacerbating existing inequalities.
KEYWORDS: Nepal; gender; disaster; intersectional; widows; South Asia
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