Gyanu is 25 years old, and lives with her father-in-law (55 years old), mother-in-law (49 years old), two brothers-in-law (20 and 15 years old) and her five-year-old son in a village high up in the hills in Chandannath, Nepal. Her husband, who is 26 years old, is pursuing an undergraduate degree in Nepalgunj and visits them during holidays. The family owns a small farm, on which they grow barley (for subsistence) and some vegetables that Gyanu sells in the market. Gyanu also undertakes stone-breaking work during the winter when there is not much work on the farm. The family also rears sheep to support Gyanu’s husband’s and younger brother-in-law’s education. Gyanu says, ‘we sell the adult sheep once in a while and send the proceeds to my husband for his education.’ Her eldest brother-in-law and father-in-law work on the family farm, and her younger brother-in-law attends school. Gyanu herself attended school until the eighth grade.
Caring responsibilities and other unpaid tasks are distributed between Gyanu and her mother-in-law, Purnikala. Gyanu says, ‘My mother-in-law cooks food and I sweep and swab the floor. Besides that, I have to do all other work that I see around me.’ The other tasks that both women do between them are cleaning, cutting grass for fodder, fetching water and fetching firewood.
Gyanu and her mother-in-law are also primarily responsible for managing the farm. Although Purnikala is predominantly responsible for the household work, she also has to help Gyanu with tilling the land and carrying the barley. She also takes care of Gyanu’s child when she is away from home for paid work or doing unpaid care work, as he does not yet attend school. There is also a seasonal burden of care and unpaid work; Gyanu explains, ‘We have more work in June, July and October as we have to cut the dry grass, till the soil for millet, plant and cut paddy, etc.’ Sometimes, when there is a shortage of grass the family also has to cut their own barley and feed the cattle. Gyanu’s brothers-in-law help them on the farm after they get back from school and on weekly holidays. Sometimes, the women also have to hire help for the farm.
There is an expectation in the family that women, and especially the daughter-in-law (Gyanu), have to do certain tasks in the kitchen. Gyanu shares:
I can wash the dishes and go to break the stones. But before going to till the land I have to sweep the house and swab the floor. As we leave early for the work, my mother-in-law brings food for us in the farm and we eat there. When we return at night, one of the family members keeps the dinner ready, so, I eat and clean the kitchen as it is a daughter-in-law’s responsibility.
Gyanu shares that traditional norms within the community hinder men from helping with household work:
If my husband helps me with my work by washing the dishes even my mother-in-law teases him for doing so. Also, the other people look down upon me for the same… The people who want to help hesitate to do so due to the fear of being ridiculed by the village.
Certain norms exist, such as that the firewood can only be carried by married women, and these also place an extra burden on the women in the family. Gyanu says, ‘It takes one hour to reach the forest [to fetch firewood]… my mother-in-law helps to carry it even though she is old. The sons don’t carry it despite being young, [as] that is the tradition of Jumla.’ Gyanu also feels there is more capacity to expand her farm produce but traditional forms of subsistence agriculture persist due to rigidity from the older generation. Cultural norms also hinder women’s mobility to do certain types of paid work. Gyanu says:
There is no water here so all the men gather near the canal at night to bring water for plantation. The elders do not want to do any other work. We could have produced onion, cauliflower, beans instead of this, but they think it is necessary to plant barley. We have some elders at home so we [women] can’t even rear cattle. Farming is women’s responsibility so we can produce beans or vegetables for sustaining our family. If men can find a job they work, but women cannot rear cattle in Patan for survival [due to traditional norms].
Gyanu values the work that she does both at home and her paid work, as the money she earns helps the family to take care of their children’s education and buy basic goods such as cooking oil, salt, etc. She would also like to do more vegetable farming if she were provided with more inputs and training for it. Purnikala also encourages her to do some paid work and appreciates the work that she does, but believes that the family has no other option but to send Gyanu to work. Gyanu states,