Manju is a 34-year-old woman from a remote village in Surkhet District, Nepal. She lives with her mother-in-law (71 years old) and her five children: four daughters (15, 10, 7 and 6 years old), and a four-year-old son. Her husband (42 years old) is a migrant worker and has been working in India for the past decade as a security guard. Her mother-in-law is in ill health and stays at home, helping out with childcare. The four daughters attend school but the youngest son has not started his studies yet. Manju herself studied until she reached fifth grade.
The major source of income for Manju’s family is her husband’s remittances. While bigger expenses are covered by the remittances, Manju’s income helps to cover food expenses and also enables her to save some money. She raises goats and earns money by selling the calves. During the agricultural season, she also works as a sharecropper (a tenant farmer who gives a part of each crop as rent) on a relative’s farm in a nearby village. It takes her about half an hour on foot to reach the farm. While she works in the farm mostly alone, she occasionally takes help from fellow women farmers in exchange for labour during planting and harvesting.
The care tasks at home are shared between Manju and her 15-year-old daughter, Rekha. The community provides no support for the family with childcare or household work. Although her mother-in-law remains ill most of the time, she is able to take care of the youngest child in the absence of Manju and Rekha.
While Manju is responsible for activities outside of home such as collecting firewood and fodder from the forest and taking care of livestock, Rekha manages other responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, fetching water from the river, and taking care of her siblings. During school holidays, Rekha also helps her mother on the farm. Rekha’s younger sister sometimes helps to clean the house and fetch water. The care tasks that Manju performs are physically challenging and time-consuming. She spends four to five hours a day going to and from the forests to collect firewood and fodder. She is unable to share this task with her family members as gender norms allow only married women to carry firewood:
If I go [to the forest] at six to seven in the morning I come back at two in the afternoon. I work all day, go to the forest and come back, bring water, wash the dishes, take care of the cattle, feed them. It’s not a work that can be seen.
Her daughter’s contribution in sharing household responsibilities has given Manju some relief to do her paid work. However, lack of employment opportunities in the village apart from agricultural labour and livestock raising prevents her from earning a regular and decent livelihood. She does not see the scope of vegetable farming in her own field because of lack of irrigation. Apart from that, lack of public services such as drinking water, fuel, and crèches in the village increases the drudgery and time poverty for both Manju and Rekha.
While Manju’s income has contributed to daily household expenses, she is not able to expand it despite being interested:
I don’t know what is good or bad, we need to work hard until we die. That’s how it is… if we had the source of water in every house we could do vegetable farming, we could grow fruits. We cannot grow anything with the land alone.
Manju spends most of her time doing care work and paid work. She has little time to rest. The responsibility of care work inside home fully rests on Rekha who is also responsible for caring for her grandmother and siblings. The burden of care work has not only affected Rekha’s studies, it also means she has no time to rest and play like other children of her age:
I just study a little in school but at home I don’t have time to study… I have to do it all day from morning to afternoon to evening, I get sick of it… It would have been easier if she did not have to farm… If my mother did the household work, I would not have to work and I could study.
While Rekha wishes her mother could stop working on the relative’s farm and focus only on household work so that she could focus on her studies, Manju highlights the need for drinking water and irrigation so that she could stop working in her relative’s field and start vegetable farming on her own land: