Kabita BK is 30 years old, and lives in Jumla District, Nepal with her mother-in-law, Sabitri BK (60 years old), and with her three children: two sons aged 14 and 12 years old and a five-year-old daughter. All three children attend school. Kabita started working after her husband and father-in-law passed away, and is the only earning member of the family. However, due to a lack of paid work opportunities and gender norms restricting women’s mobility, she finds it difficult to make ends meet: ‘There is no paid work for women. Sometimes we can go to break stones. The men they can work as construction workers. There are no men in our family. Sometimes we break stones. That’s it.’
Kabita’s paid work is seasonal in nature. During the agricultural seasons, she works on her farm and grows paddy, barley and beans on the hilltop, which she sells in the local market. If there is work available she works on others’ farms in the town for additional income. During the off-season, she breaks stones locally for approximately eight hours a day:
We do not have the stone-breaking duty in the months of Baishakh [May], Jestha [June], Asaar [July]. It happens only in Shrawan [August] and Bhadra [September]. If it doesn’t rain, then we can go also in Paush [January] and Mangsir [December]. If I have work in the fields, then I won’t go to break stones. I go only when there is no work in the fields.
Sabitri also shares that she helps on the farm and sometimes has to break stones and carry sand when there is a dire need for money:
We buy salt, a packet of oil, shoes and clothes for the children. If there was a good place for investment we would have chosen to do so but the pay is very low so it just covers the basic needs such as salt, oil, footwear.
During the past year, Kabita also worked for 15 days on the construction project of the Karnali Employment Programme (KEP) – a public works social protection programme initiated by the Government of Nepal – as she was selected under the programme’s criteria of female-headed households. She states that the level of safety at the workplace is not high, but it is acceptable. The KEP worksite is 15 minutes’ walk from Kabita’s home, and she works there for six hours a day.
Kabita and Sabitri share the care work and unpaid work between them; Kabita says, ‘I do the tasks that are the most burdensome. Other lighter work and cooking are done by my mother-in-law.’ As Kabita has to do most of the paid work and some of the unpaid care work such as fetching firewood and cutting grass for fodder, Sabitri does the care work inside the household:
I do cooking, feeding the children, caring for the cow, washing the dishes, bringing firewood and working on the farm. There aren’t many people at home so I have to do the work even if I get tired. - Sabitri BK
Kabita’s sons sometimes help with fetching water and they help their mother on the farm after they get back from school and during holidays. There are water taps in the community but they work irregularly; however, there is a river close by. Sabitri shares that the eldest son is more responsible now there is no elder male in the family:
When I tell him, he goes to water the farm. We did not teach him anything earlier but after his father passed away, he went to water the farm, bring firewood, breaks the stones, breaks down the wall, settles the mud and works on the canal.
Kabita and Sabitri also have to hire help for ploughing the farm, as traditionally only men can plough; Kabita works in exchange for their labour on their farms, which further burdens her. She does not receive any additional support from members of the community with childcare or domestic work.
Both Kabita and Sabitri value Kabita’s paid work contribution because they have no other alternative. Kabita feels exhausted and suffers from back ache and pain in her lower abdomen due to all the heavy lifting. She further complains that breaking stones is problematic as ‘dust irritates the eyes and our hands hurt due to constant breaking of stones.’ She receives Rs 4,000 for filling one trolley of stones, which takes up to a week. As such, Kabita gets no time for rest or leisure. Sabitri has been unwell for some time due to constant worry regarding their sustenance but she cannot afford to visit the hospital in the town. She finds herself burdened by the amount of care work she has to do because of Kabita’s paid work responsibilities:
Sometimes I rest, but when my daughter-in-law has gone somewhere far I do not get to rest. At times my daughter-in-law stays home and rests. If she is offered a work she goes there and I stay home. She comes home at night which worries me.
Both Kabita and Sabitri would like there to be good irrigation facilities locally, as Kabita shares: ‘We have to carry the water from the river to water the farms. There is irrigation canals [nearer to the farm] from which we again have to carry the water but these too dry up in the dry season.’ Sabitri feels that the government should develop more roads and strengthen public transport, and develop markets and skills training for women so that they are able to earn better incomes. Kabita shares that livelihoods programmes such as the KEP help, but ‘better safety equipment such as boots, goggles and provision of snacks would help them work more efficiently.’