When 300 Nepali migrant women returned to Nepal in June after being stuck in Kuwait for two months due to travel restrictions, they had nowhere to quarantine safely in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
The Nepali government has set up quarantine centers around the country, but they have been critcized for being unsafe for women. Authorities arrested three men on June 15 for allegedly gang-raping a woman who was quarantining at an empty school in Lamkichuha. The attack spurred protests and public anger, as well as demands for better facilities. The government says it is committed to improving the facilities, but many still have concerns.
The organization Women for Human Rights (WHR) is helping address the issue by operating a women-only quarantine center to provide a safe space for returning migrants.
"Initially, we had 21 people in the quarantine center, including men," Lily Thapa, founder of WHR, told UN Women. "It became challenging to manage both men and women in the same quarantine center, due to different needs."
UN Women has donated personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, and sanitizers to the center, and WHR provides each woman with a dignity kit, including items such as menstrual pads, underwear, and a toothbrush.
"We are all very happy to be here, as we feel safe," Mithu Tamang, a woman staying at the center, told UN Women. "All the staff are female and that makes us feel comfortable."
The International Organization for Migration reported that migrants are more vulnerable to crises, especially the COVID-19 pandemic. As migrants return to their home countries, they fear that they will bring and spread the virus.
On top of that, they fear stigmatization and many women also said they do not have safe places to return to.
Tamang, who left Nepal to escape domestic abuse, says she’s not sure where she will go after quarantine. Since the pandemic, reports of domestic abuse and violence against women have spiked globally. The Council on Foreign Relations called the surge of gender-based violence a "double pandemic."
Valerie Julliand, the United Nations resident coordinator in Nepal, expressed the importance of women’s organizations working with the Nepali government and urged for more spaces dedicated to women’s safety.
"Gender-based violence is pronounced and needs attention," Julliand told UN Women. "Legal migration, livelihood, and employment opportunities are crucial. We must take these factors into account when we plan socioeconomic recovery."