Nepalese women soldiers break taboos to fight COVID crisis

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By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU, December 1 (Reuters) – Four women wearing protective gear lift the body of a coronavirus victim at the Pashupati crematorium in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, and hand it over to crematoria – an unimaginable scene in the country conservative in recent years.

Women touching a dead body are still a cultural taboo in Nepal. But women’s rights have improved since the predominantly Hindu country emerged from a ten-year conflict in 2006 and abolished its centuries-old feudal monarchy two years later.

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

“I feel privileged and happy to have had the chance to do the work that has been done only by men so far,” said one of the women, a 25-year-old corporal named Rachana, who asked. to be identified by a single Name. “Society is changing … I haven’t been to my family since I started my new assignment, but my friends are happy. They thank me and say, ‘You have performed a difficult task with care and kept yourself safe. personal. Thank you. I’m happy. “

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

Nepalese army spokesman Shantosh B. Poudyal said the force of 95,000 men gave women soldiers new roles, as part of a program to empower them.

“Women were previously deployed in combat missions, hospitals, munitions, engineers and disasters. This is the first time they have handled bodies from hospitals and transported them to the crematorium, ”Poudyal told Reuters. “You could say that it breaks the boundaries… breaking the glass ceiling.”

The Nepalese army is responsible for handling the bodies of coronavirus victims across the country.

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

As of Monday, 29 people were said to have died from COVID-19, the highest number of daily deaths since November 4, according to data from the Ministry of Health.

Counting infections and deaths is a challenge as testing is limited and experts say the actual numbers could be much higher than official data. A panel is examining the discrepancies, authorities say.

Health workers say the pandemic will only get worse with the onset of winter and limited health infrastructure, including intensive care beds, is stretched.

Outside the Pashupati cremation house, crying parents threw marigolds and vermilion powder over an iron fence on a white shroud covering the body of a 58-year-old man.

Three other bodies, with tags with their names and ages pinned to the bags, laid on the floor next to a white hearse as the crematoria worked past midnight.

“It is my duty to remove the corpses and I am proud of what I do,” said Krishna Kumari, another soldier in the group.

The 37-year-old sergeant added: “The job is physically demanding … and we have proven that women are capable of performing difficult tasks during the pandemic.

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