Gauri BK is a 31-year-old woman from a remote village in Jumla District, Nepal. She lives in an extended family with her mother-in-law (60 years old), father-in-law (70 years old), husband (34 years old) and five daughters (11, 9, 7, 5 and 2 years old). Her father-in-law is sick most of the time. The eldest four daughters attend a government school on the outskirts of the village. Gauri herself has never been to school. Her husband works as a mason. Gauri faces pressure from the family to give birth to a son and has already undergone two sex-selective abortions that have affected her health and worsened the imbalance between care and paid work.
Gauri was selected for the Karnali Employment Programme last year, a public works social protection programme initiated by the Government of Nepal. She went for five days and later found out she was pregnant. Her family had to give up the work because she and her husband went to Nepalgunj, a town in Tarai, Nepal, bordering India to get her checked. She underwent an abortion for the second time after finding out it was a girl. The multiple abortions have affected Gauri’s health and since then she has been unable to carry heavy loads. Before the second abortion, she also did wage work, such as selling firewood and apples, and crushing stones. However, her deteriorating physical health and the responsibility of childcare have discouraged her from pursuing paid work regularly. Her husband, Sunil, is of the opinion that while he would ideally like Gauri to stay at home, she needs to work because of their financial situation:
I wish she could stay and work at home. But I would want her to do paid work. It depends on time and family circumstances.
Gauri also feels that her husband’s income alone is not sufficient to support the family as he does not have regular employment either, and therefore she needs to contribute financially. Although her health does not permit much, Gauri sometimes does wage work to meet the day-to-day expenses of the family, such as breaking stones (within the village) and selling firewood (in the market, which is about an hour’s walk away):
I work out of necessity. We cannot live without eating anything. How is it possible if I stay home without working! If everything is enough at home, then one can stay without doing anything. If it is not enough, I should of course work.
Gauri and her mother-in-law, Devaki, share most of the care work between them. There is a minimal presence of public services in the village. While drinking water taps have been installed in dalit households through a targeted non-governmental organisation programme, other services such as electricity, irrigation canals, transportation and childcare provision are not available. Gauri is mostly responsible for the care work outside of the home such as collecting firewood and fodder, taking care of the livestock and working on the farm. She also receives help from women in the community with the farm work through a labour exchange practice called parma, specifically during the planting and harvesting periods. Her mother-in-law is responsible for the cooking, and taking care of the children when Gauri is away at the farm or doing paid work. Gauri’s two eldest daughters also support their mother and grandmother with care tasks. While the eldest daughter fetches water from the nearby tap and collects fodder during her holidays, the second daughter is mostly responsible for taking care of her siblings. Gauri’s husband spends most of his time away from home for work, and even when he is home he does not contribute much to care tasks except for ploughing in the field which is culturally considered as men’s work. He does the care tasks only when the women of the household are menstruating or sick. As Gauri has been unable to do heavy work such as carrying firewood, fodder and manure after her abortion – which is culturally the domain of married women – the family has to manage with whatever they can find around their farm. While having her mother-in-law at home has helped Gauri manage care tasks inside the home, the intensive tasks of childcare and cooking have burdened her aged mother-in-law as well, who often remains unwell.
There are many children. I have to look after them. I have to cook food. If I could, I would have gone and collected fodder from the forest but I cannot. I am mostly sick. I cook food, and look after the children, that’s all!... I cannot ask daughter-in-law to cook food after she comes from work. So, if I can, I should do those things. If I can, I should do them easily. If I cannot, I should struggle doing them.
Gauri, her husband, and her mother-in-law collectively state that there should be regular employment opportunities both for men and women so that they do not have to struggle to make ends meet and take up any low-paid and arduous work. Sunil thinks that facilities should be available within the village that would reduce women’s workload and give them free time to do paid work. Devaki, on the other hand, suggests that men should contribute more to care tasks so that women are not overburdened. Gauri wishes her children could grow up faster so that they could help the family with both unpaid and paid work.
It would have been easier if they provided us [with] employment opportunities. It would have financially helped us. It could support us at least for six months.
If all the facilities were close by it would have been easier for both men and women but unfortunately all the facilities are far off and we are not free at all to go for paid work.