Heema Raut is 35 years old, and is a single mother who lives in Chandannath, Nepal with her three children: two daughters (17 and 5 years old) and one son (14 years old). All of the children attend school. Heema herself is uneducated. Her husband passed away four years ago, and since then she has been doing various types of paid work to provide for her family.
Besides paid work, Heema also has to work inside the home:
I wake up in the morning, cook food, tell the children to clean up, feed them, send them to school then go for work at ten and return at five [six days a week]. After that, I cook dinner, serve it to them, tell them to do their homework; then I eat and go to sleep.
She is also helped with the household tasks by her eldest daughter who helps her mainly with cooking, washing clothes, and cutting grass on weekly holidays. Her son, Yogesh, also helps with taking care of his younger sister and helps his mother on the farm when on his holidays. Interestingly, the community members take turns to look after each other’s cattle:
We all take turns… The villagers collectively coordinate and take them to the forest in the afternoon. Since the whole village is involved in it we just have to look after it for a day.
Heema’s neighbours also take care of her youngest child when she is away at work. This community redistribution of care and unpaid work helps women to save time and energy and move towards a ‘double boon’.
Heema, like most women in Jumla District, does seasonal and multiple types of paid work:
I crush stones in the winter even though my hands are cracked. Instead of staying at home we go to crush stones so that we can earn some money to buy oil, stationery and cover household expenses. I participated in the Karnali Employment Programme [KEP] which is implemented in the monsoon. Li-Bird distributed plastic sheets [for building greenhouses] so we produce vegetable and sell it in the market.
She works on her farm in the morning and then goes to break stones in the afternoons. Initially, Heema was raising chickens, but her move towards vegetable and mushroom farming with help from Li-Bird (a local NGO in Nepal which works on women’s livelihoods issues in rural areas) has helped her earn a better income:
We do not have much earning [from wage labour] but we managed to buy stationery for our children, oil, salt, household needs through the money we earned from producing these winter vegetables. We bought clothes, paid school fees by producing mushrooms.
The village coordinator recommended her name for the KEP due to her weak financial situation. The wages received from KEP work helped Heema to some extent with ‘buying stationery for the children in the school.’
Heema finds it very difficult to manage to finish her household work with her various paid work commitments. She prioritises her paid work even if the other unpaid work is left undone: ‘The household work can be postponed in case we are tired but we cannot do that in case of wage labour.’ She stretches her time to adjust all her responsibilities, especially during the agricultural season (June – July). She is unable to fetch firewood and grass as the forest is far and the task is time-consuming. The children also complain that their studies are affected by their care work responsibilities; Yogesh says, ‘if my mother and sister could take care of my younger sister, then I would get more time to study.’ Trying to complete all her work, Heema does not get any time to rest: ‘I rest only in the night when I go to sleep.’
With regards to the KEP programme, Heema says that she was not provided with any safety equipment such as a helmet, boots, etc.; and she states: ‘It’s windy there so we have to cover our face. We get blisters in our hands after digging. The most problematic part is our eyes which get infected because of the dust there.’ There is no child crèche facility at the site: ‘Women with small children do not go for the KEP work.’ She also mentions a group of foreigners who came to speak to them about the KEP work experience and remembers that, ‘our daily wage is supposed to be Rs 575… we had talked about mentioning it to the District Development Office but I have not followed up on that [issue].’
Heema regards her involvement in paid work as important: ‘I believe that my children have been able to study and wear new clothes because I work as a wage labourer.’ She feels that her imbalance of paid and care work would be helped if the government would provide them with gas cylinders (or alternative fuel options) and electricity: ‘If there was electricity [in the village] then I could finish all my work in the night.’ For improvements to the KEP work, she suggests that there should be transportation to and from the site as it takes almost an hour for them to walk there, and provision of safety work equipment such as goggles, boots, etc., and food: ‘had they provided us with snacks, we would have eaten in the afternoon when we felt hungry.’ Decent working conditions, along with infrastructure such as electricity, fuel, roads, etc. would help her to save time and energy.