Januka BK is 21 years old, and lives in Chandannath, Nepal in an extended family with her husband (22 years old), four-year-old daughter, one-year-old son, mother-in-law, Rasila (45 years old), brother-in-law (15 years old) and sister-in-law (12 years old). Her brother-in-law and sister-in-law both attend school. Her father-in-law has a second wife and family who live nearby, and he takes it in turn to stay with each family. Januka was married before puberty. Her husband and father-in-law, Jayalal BK (48 years old), work as tailors in nearby villages and Januka does daily wage work whenever it is available in the village. The family owns a small piece of land on which Januka and Rasila grow wheat, barley or paddy for sustenance.
Januka’s village is situated high up in the hills, away from the road (a 30–45-minute walk away from the highway, with no public transport provision), and there is very little work for women in the village:
Unlike the women in other villages who carry sand, breaking stones [near the river and close to the road], the women in this village only have the option of carrying firewood from the forest and tilling the land… I do wage labour whenever there is work.
Currently, she has been offered a day’s work (around six hours) carrying stone on a school project, ‘my sister works there so she called me so I could earn some money. They will pay me Rs 500 [US$4.5] for the day with which I can buy some oil and also save some money.’ In the past year, Januka also worked for a few days in the Karnali Employment Programme (KEP), a public works social protection programme initiated by the Government of Nepal, taking turns with her father-in-law to go. Jayalal explains their participation further:
Last year, some people with disability worked there, the leader chose them. But later, we told them that we are poor and have people with disability at home. We explained to them the difficulty we face to meet the daily needs and requested them to help us. So, two people worked under the same card at that time.
However, Januka could only participate for five or six days because her child fell ill after that and she had to look after him.
With regards to income, her husband’s income is used for buying rice and taking care of the children’s education while Januka tries to save Rs 100 (US$1) per month with a local savings group. Besides Januka and her husband contributing to the day-to-day expenses, her father-in-law buys some groceries in turn for both his families.
Januka is primarily responsible for most of the care work and household work:
I wake up in the morning, smear and sweep the floor, fetch water, cook food, go for work in the afternoon. And, if I do not have work outside the house then I stay at home... I also fetch firewood and cut the grass.
Januka also has to take care of Rasila, who has been very unwell for the last couple of months; as Rasila explains:
I am physically tired, I don’t have the energy. My daughter-in-law does most of the work. I don’t go to work; I stay home and look after the children, cook when she goes to do some work and sometimes feed the cow.
Januka is burdened with all the unpaid care tasks because being the daughter-in-law in the family she is primarily responsible for all the household work; as Rasila shares: ‘the elders [men] and the children of the household do not engage in household work.’ Rasila’s illness has left Januka with no support; Januka says, ‘My mother-in-law is ill, so, naturally the burden falls on me. I bring the firewood in the morning, have food, and come here. Then I return in the evening, wash the dishes and cook food.’ She finds going to the forest the most time-consuming and burdensome as the forest is open for only a short period of time, and the task takes the whole day as the forest is far away from her village. Additionally, the water source is a 15-minute walk away from the house. She gets very little time to rest and none in the peak farming seasons such as June and July as ‘we have to cut the barley, plant the seeds and till the land.’ The burden of all the work takes its toll on her but she feels she has no choice: ‘She gets tired. Sometimes, she gets fever after work, sometimes she has body aches. She takes some herbal medicines and goes to work on the next day as she has no choice’, shares Jayalal. Also, she receives no help from her husband and this burdens her more, resulting in physical exhaustion:
I wish that he cooked food and offered me water when I am tired. Since there is nobody I have to look after my children while cooking and also fetch water. Who will do it? I have to do everything.
Januka would like to do more paid work but she has small children and so she is unable to find work outside of the village: ‘I got some work opportunity at Urthu road, it is a little far. But I cannot leave the child behind and go far to work.’ She would preferably like paid work opportunities closer to home: ‘I could have done my work properly if there was a person to look after my child. Now, I worry about my child while working, I’m worried that the child would fall. I cannot concentrate on my work.’ She could not do additional KEP work as she could not take her child along because of the location and because it is road construction work.
Januka’s parents-in-law do not force her to do paid work but value the income that she earns as it helps the family financially. They all wish she could do some decent work rather than carrying stones in construction sites. Jayalal also feels that the provision of old age and disability allowances would help the household financially.