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


Allen, Michael. (1990). “The Hindu View of Women.” In Women in India and Nepal. Eds. Michael Allen and S.N. Mukherjee. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers. Pp. 1-20.

Ariyabandu, Madhavi Malalgoda. (2009). “Sex, Gender and Gender Relations in Disasters.” In Women, Gender, and Disaster: Global Issues and Initiatives. Eds. Elaine Enarson, P.G. Dhar Chakrabarti. Sage: New Delhi.

Ariyabandu, Madhavi Malalgoda and D. Foenseka. (2006).  “Do Disasters Discriminate?” in Duryog Nivaran (ed.), South Asia Network for Disaster Mitigation: Tackling the Tides and Tremors, pp. 23-40.

Arora, S. (2022). “Intersectional vulnerability in post-disaster contexts: lived experiences of Dalit women after the Nepal earthquake, 2015.” Disasters. Pages forthcoming.

Bankoff, Gregory. (2001). “Rendering the World Unsafe: ‘Vulnerability’ as Western Discourse.” Disasters 25/1, Pp. 19-35.

Cameron, Mary. (1998). On the Edge of Auspicious: Gender and Caste in Nepal. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Channa, Subhadra Mitra. (2013). Gender in South Asia: Social Imagination and Constructed Realities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Chavez Rodriguez, Libertad. (2010). “Gender-Based Social Vulnerability on Disasters and Intersectionality.” In Women’s Encounter with Disaster Ed. Samir Dasgupta, Ismail Siriner and Partha Sarathi De. London: Front Page.

Cho, S., Crenshaw, K., & McCall, L. (2013). “Toward a Field of Intersectionality Studies: Theory, Applications, and Praxis.” Signs, 38(4), 785-810.

Collins P.H. (2005). “Black Women and Motherhood.” In Motherhood and Space Eds. Hardy S., Wiedmer C. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

Crenshaw, Kimberle. (1991). “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review. 43:6. Pp. 1241-1299.

Dahal, K.B. (2007). “Health Embedded in the Social Context: Internally Displaced War Widows in Nepal.” Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society. 1/32. Pp. 63-70.

Datta, V.N. (1988). Sati: A Historical, Social and Philosophical Enquiry into the Hindu Rite of Widow Burning. Riverdale: Riverdale Publishing Company.

Dube, Leela. (1997). Women and Kinship: Comparative Perspectives on Gender in South and South-East Asia.  Tokyo, New York, Paris: United Nations University Press.

Enarson E., Fothergill A., Peek L. (2018) “Gender and Disaster: Foundations and New Directions for Research and Practice.” In Handbook of Disaster Research Eds. Rodríguez H., Donner W., Trainor J. New York: Springer.

Galvin, Kathy-Lee. (2005). Forbidden Red: Widowhood in Urban Nepal. Pullman: University of Washington Press.

Gurung, Raj Kumari. (2016). “Accusations of Witchcraft in Nepal: Problems and Impact on Women.” Asian Journal of Women’s Studies. 22/1. Pp. 65-74.

Horton, Lynn. (2012). “After the Earthquake: Gender Inequality and Transformation in Post-Disaster Haiti.” Gender & Development, 20:2, 295-308.

Kunreuther, Laura. (2009). “Between Love and Property: Voice, Sentiment, and Subjectivity in the Reform of Daughter’s Inheritance in Nepal.” American Ethnologist. 36/3: Pp. 545-562.

Leve, Lauren. (Winter 2007). “’Failed Development’ and Rural Revolution in Nepal: Rethinking Subaltern Consciousness and Women’s Empowerment.” Anthropological Quartlery 80/1. Pp. 127-172.

McCall, L. (2005). “The Complexity of Intersectionality.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 30: 1771-1800.

Mehta, Majari. (2009). “Reducing Disaster Risk through Community Resilience in the Himalayas.” In Women, Gender, and Disaster: Global Issues and Initiatives. Eds. Elaine Enarson, P.G. Dhar Chakrabarti. Sage: New Delhi.

Mohanty, Chandra. (1988). “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses.” Feminist Review 30, Pp. 61-88.

Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. (2013). “Transnational feminist crossings: On neoliberalism and radical critique.” SIGNS. 38/4: Pp. 967-991.

Moreno-Walton, Lisa and Kristi Koenig. (March 2016). “Disaster Resilience: Addressing Gender Disparities.” 2016. World Medical and Health Policy 8(1): 46-87.

National Planning Commission. (2015). Nepal Earthquake 2015 Post Disaster Needs Assessment: Executive Summary. Government of Nepal: Kathmandu. 

Nightingale, Andrea J. (2011). “Bounding Difference: Intersectionality and the Material Production of Gender, Caste, Class and Environment in Nepal.” Geoforum 42. Pp. 153-162.

Phillips, Brenda D. and Maureen Fordham. (2010). “Introduction” In Social Vulnerability to Disasters Eds. Brenda D. Phillips et al. Boca Raton: Taylor and Francis.

Tamang, Seira. (2000). “Legalizing State Patriarchy in Nepal.” Studies in Nepali History and Society 5(1): 127-156.

Tamang, Seira. (2002). “Dis-embedding the Sexual/Social Contract: Citizenship and Gender in Nepal.” Citizenship Studies 6/3. Pp. 309-324.

Yadav, Punam. (2016). “White Sari—Transforming Widowhood in Nepal.” Gender, Technology and Development. 20/1, Pp. 1-24.

Yadav, Punam. (2017). Social Transformation in Post-Conflict Nepal: A Gender Perspective. New York: Routledge.