From Where I stand: “Hunger may kill the poor and vulnerable before COVID-19 does”


Author: Palmu Sherpa

Rita Mahato, a feminist activist from the Madhesi Community of Siraha, Province 2 of Nepal, has worked for over 17 years fighting for women’s rights in her community. In particular, Mahato advocates for ending child marriage, dowry, domestic violence, polygamy, violence against women, and gender discrimination.

Rita Mahato, women’s rights activist from Siraha, Nepal. Photo courtesy of Rita Mahato


Being married off at the age of 15 and having experienced domestic violence, I understand how vulnerable you become when the situation hits you hard. Today, we are all in a vulnerable position due to COVID-19, so it is a time where all of us need to make extra efforts to support those who need it the most.

The enforcement of lockdown to prevent COVID-19 transmission has triggered unintended consequences for the poorest and most vulnerable. For instance, families in my neighborhood, who rely on daily wages from informal work, are having fewer meals, borrowing money, and living in despair as they are now deprived of their only source of income. Moreover, elderly, single women, Dalit women, daily wage earners, and poor families are most susceptible to food insecurity. It seems like hunger may kill the poor and vulnerable before COVID-19 does.

As a social rights activist, I must go further than just sharing information about COVID-19. I must support those who come to me for support. Who will fight for the rights of the poor, vulnerable, and single women, if not us?

So, I try to help people of my community through different means such as providing in-kind support, groceries from my husband’s shop, calling or visiting the municipality office for fair distribution of relief packages, and providing food aid. Apart from that, I also use my social media presence to seek support from generous and helping hands within the country and beyond. I have been able to collect food aid for more than 17 families through my social media activism.  I also provide counseling support to those in need as I have worked as a health counselor and social mobilizer with Women’s Rehabilitation Center (WOREC), a national non-governmental organization, in the past.

My children request me to take a break during the pandemic but since I have devoted my life to social service to the most vulnerable population, I prioritize the needs of marginalized groups.”


SDG 5: Gender equality

Rita Mahato (44) is on the front lines to support and respond to the needs of her Madhesi Community in Siraha district, Province 2 of Nepal. She talks to UN Women about her passion to help others, as a feminist activist, during the difficult times of the COVID-19 crisis. Mahato’s work contributes to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 on zero hunger, SDG 5 on gender equality and SDG 10 on reduced inequalities.