Durga BK is 22 years old and lives in a village in Surkhet District, Nepal. She lives with her two children – an eight-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter. Her son attends pre-school. Her husband (25 years old) is a migrant worker in India and works in a factory. Her mother-in-law, Hemkala, lives next door with Durga’s brother-in-law’s family.
Durga considers her husband to be the primary breadwinner for the family, while she is herself involved in small-scale self-employment activities, albeit irregular in nature. She sells vegetables and livestock, and sometimes brews and sells alcohol too. She is part of many women’s groups and has recently bought a goat with a loan taken from one of the groups. She hopes to raise the goat and sell its offspring. She also participates in construction-related work in the village whenever it is available.
Being a de facto household head, Durga has to look after all the care tasks at home on her own. Hemkala steps in to cook food and take care of the children and livestock when Durga is away at work or is sick; otherwise Durga does not receive any additional support with childcare or domestic work. In addition, there is no childcare provision in the village. Regardless of the circumstances, Durga has to do certain activities such as fetching water and collecting firewood and fodder by herself. These activities are physically intensive as well as time consuming because the forest and source of water are far from her home.
While remittance is the major source of income for Durga’s family, her income contributes to daily food expenses and stationeries for her children. Her membership in various groups has encouraged her to pursue a number of income-generating activities; however, she feels she has to miss out on these opportunities because of her care work burden. In the absence of her husband, she feels she is only able to do small-scale home-based paid work as she has to prioritise her care work:
We cannot work hard like them, earn like them and compete outside the house, we are just limited to our houses… When I plan to sell some vegetables or brew alcohol, something or the other comes up at home and I am unable to go according to the plan.
Even then, it gets very difficult for Durga to manage both care and paid work. When she is working on her farm, which is a ten-minute walk from her home, she is unable to complete the household chores on time. She also feels she is not able to take care of her children because of her time poverty, which is further magnified by her husband’s migration:
I can’t manage to do the chore… I don’t get time to rest… I’m unable to mop, wash the utensil and clothes… I can’t look after the child either.
The imbalance of care and paid work also has adverse effects on Hemkala, especially during the farming season. As Durga is unable to contribute much to the household work during the farming season, Hemkala’s care responsibilities also increase because she has to cook food for the many people who come to help with farming work, alongside taking care of the children. She says,
That is a difficult time for me. I have to feed so many people, cook for them, bring water, it is definitely difficult. If everybody could do their own work, it would have been very light/easy for me.
Both Durga and Hemkala feel that the provision of decent employment opportunities for women such as stitching, or running hotels or shops would relieve them from the drudgery of farm work. They believe that development organisations could play an important role in providing such employment opportunities. In addition, they also highlight that provision of public services, such as drinking water near home, could significantly reduce their care work burden.