Malati is 28 years old, and lives in a remote village in Surkhet District, Nepal, with her extended family: father-in-law (59 years old), mother-in-law (55 years old), husband (32 years old), two daughters, aged eight and six, and one-year-old son. Educated to grade eight, Malati is the only income-earning member of the family. Malati says that her husband wanted to join the Nepal Army; however, after several failed attempts, he stays home with no interest in earning an income for the family. Her parents-in-law move between Surkhet and India where her elder brother-in-law resides. Her father-in-law is unwell much of the time. Her mother-in-law does most of the cooking, farm work and childcare when Malati is busy with her paid work.
Like many women in rural Nepal, Malati is engaged in multiple self-employment activities which take up most of her time. She has a small retail store near her house, equipped with a sewing machine, where she also stitches clothes on order. She sells local alcohol on the side. She is a member of the Pavitra Seed Cooperative and has recently started cultivating seeds but due to lack of irrigation she does not produce them on a large scale. After the birth of her youngest son, she stopped the tailoring work and instead focused on the store and alcohol-making. Malati single-handedly runs these small-scale enterprises with no support from her husband or family.
Besides paid work, Malati’s daily routine includes performing care tasks and household chores. Her daily tasks include fetching water from a community tap, cooking, feeding her children, taking care of her son, collecting fodder and firewood, and other farm-related work. While her mother-in-law helps her with the cooking and farm-related work, Malati has the primary responsibility of looking after her toddler, fetching water, and collecting firewood and fodder. Her father-in-law is unwell but occasionally helps take care of the children. Her husband rarely stays at home and sometimes helps with fetching water. He helps to cook and takes care of the children only when the women are sick or away. The wider community sometimes provide support with care duties to women who live in nuclear families but because Malati’s in-laws live with her she receives no such help.
Among all the care tasks, childcare seems to be the most intensive and time-consuming responsibility for Malati. She finds it physically and mentally tiring as her infant son is always with her and she has to constantly feed him, wash his clothes and attend to him whenever he demands:
I’d be relaxed once he grows up, I’d be able to concentrate on my work. This one is giving me a difficult time. The first two are grown up; it became more difficult for me after having my son.
Since Malati is the only breadwinner of the family and is involved in small-scale activities, she has to diversify her livelihood options in order to earn enough to meet family expenses:
There is no profit. It just provides us daily expenses. There is no profit at all, it just a way of providing ourselves with food, we just pay the loans and feed ourselves.
Through her income, she has been able to send her two daughters to private schools. However, with increasing education costs, she is struggling to meet their expenses and is thinking of shifting them to a government school:
They do not agree at all… I can’t shift them to government school out of my love for my daughters, I don’t know what to do, what not to do, it’s getting difficult for me, they are reaching higher classes, they need more stationery, it’s getting difficult.
Switching between three types of paid work and care work has taken a toll on her, especially after the birth of her son. Malati feels the childcare responsibility has limited her mobility and paid work options. In addition, the absence of state services such as drinking water, irrigation and crèches has increased her time-poverty and the drudgery of unpaid care tasks.
Malati is a member of several women’s groups. She has taken loans from the groups for household expenses as well as for the shop and repays the loans with her income. While these groups have provided her with financial support, Malati feels that membership in multiple groups has led to increased time poverty and dependence on loans.
Malati’s single-handed involvement in multiple paid work activities and care work makes her more vulnerable to a double burden. On one hand, she had to downscale her paid activity and thus income because of increased care work responsibility and on the other, she is not able to provide enough care and emotional support to her son and especially her two daughters because of the time spent on paid work. She continuously worries about the daughters’ education:
I have lots of work but very little time. I get torn between work and baby’s care is not managed well… Yes, they [daughters] have been forced to grow up. I yell at them. At this age, they are supposed to be put in our laps, fed by us but they clean themselves up, change their clothes and go on their own because I am busy. Hence, if you consider the age of my daughter, she should be carried and taken to her bus, that is the service I should provide them but I beat them up instead. I am burdened by the work; I get angry and end up beating them.
This imbalance has also affected her health. She recently underwent a gall bladder operation but has not been able to take rest for a single day. She doesn’t get any time to rest during the day.
There is no such thing as rest. I don’t even rest my back in the afternoon… I have been recently operated; I had stones in my gall bladder. I used to have constant back pain. Hence, I had to do it. It was only when I could not move at all with the pain. Once I showed signs of slight recovery by eating and moving around, I had to do all the work; who would do it for me?
Her mother-in-law, Raji, who is the other significant carer of the household recognises Malati’s work burden and shares her helplessness. Raji says:
She does all the work on her own. It is really difficult for her. Actually, just a work of stitching or shop is sufficient for a person but she has to look after the cattle and children as well… She has to manage everything on her own and I don’t know anything besides my own work.
Malati thinks that her family members, especially her husband, could help reduce her paid work burden by contributing to the household income. She also states that availability of irrigation provisions would facilitate income-generating activities such as commercial vegetable farming. Additionally, she recommends that the programmes targeted to women be integrated and not implemented in small and fragmented ways, thus enabling women to reduce their time poverty and take advantage of the benefits accorded by the programmes: