Women soldiers of Nepal defy taboos to deal with pandemic crisis
January 20, 2021

Women soldiers of Nepal defy taboos to deal with pandemic crisis

KATHMANDU (NEPAL) – At the Pashupati crematorium in Kathmandu, four women clad in protective gear lift the body of a COVID victim and hand it over to workers there. In the predominantly-Hindu nation, women touching a corpse is still taboo and these four women, who are soldiers, are defying odds by doing so.

But rights for women have improved since the majority-Hindu country emerged from a decade-long conflict in 2006 and abolished its centuries-old feudal monarchy two years later.

The women carrying corpses in Kathmandu, all soldiers, are being deployed for the first time as the nation of 30 million people tries to manage the bodies of COVID-19 victims amid the growing pandemic.

“I feel privileged and happy for being given a chance to do the work that was done only by the males so far,” said one of the women, a 25-year-old corporal named Rachana, who asked to be identified by just one name. “Society is changing … I have not been to my family since I started my new duty, but my friends are happy. They thank me and say, ‘You have performed a difficult task carefully and maintained your personal safety. Thank you’. I feel happy.”

On their first day on the job last month, the four moved six bodies from a hospital to a crematorium.

Nepal Army spokesman Shantosh B. Poudyal said the 95,000-strong force was putting women soldiers in new roles, part of a programme to empower them.

“Women were deployed in combat duty, hospitals, ordnance, engineers and disasters before. This is the first time they are managing the bodies from hospitals and transporting them to the crematorium,” Poudyal said. “You can say it is breaking the borders … breaking the glass ceiling.”

Nepal’s army is responsible for managing the bodies of coronavirus victims across the nation.

The pandemic has killed 1,508 people in the country and infected 233,452 since the virus was first detected in January, according to official data.

On Monday, 29 people were reported dead from COVID-19, the highest number of daily fatalities since Nov. 4, health ministry data showed.

Keeping count of infections and deaths is a challenge, as testing is limited, and experts say the real numbers could be far higher than the official data. A panel is looking into discrepancies, authorities say.

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