Pramila Rokaya is 30 years old. She got married at the age of 14 and lives with her husband, Jeevan (40 years old), and five children: four daughters (13, 11, 8 and 6 years old) and her four-year-old son. The family lives in Chandannath, Nepal, in a village located down the road from a highway where the children attend school. The family owns a small plot of land of two Bighas (roughly 3.3 acres). Pramila and her husband suffered a major financial setback around three years ago when their house and tea shop (which they had taken out loans to build) burnt down. After much hard work and savings, they have managed to open a small hotel near the highway. Jeevan says, ‘in spite of both of us working, we are unable to save much as we have to repay loans. It got accumulated as I had to build [the house] twice.’
Pramila, who attended secondary school up to the tenth grade, works on her small plot of land (for around five hours per day) and grows paddy, barley, potatoes, cauliflower and apples. She says, ‘I have to farm to raise the children. I carry stones and sand during free time [from February to May].’ During the lean season she breaks stones for around seven hours per day: ‘This work helps me to pay the school fees [and stationery] for my children.’ Jeevan helps her during harvesting time, but Pramila usually asks other people to plough her land as her husband is busy with the shop. Pramila says that ‘people agree to do the work if we offer to help them in exchange, so I go to their place to carry manure or barley. Sometimes, I go to cut paddy as well.’ Sometimes, Pramila also fetches firewood from the forest to sell in the market. She has also worked in several Village Development Committee-approved community projects such as for building taps and canals. Pramila shares her experience of working for these projects:
They give us a daily wage for breaking stones there [at the site of the tap construction]. The wage depends on the place we carry cement to. If it is far, then we get Rs 500, otherwise Rs 400 or 350… They give Rs 500 to male construction workers and Rs 300 to female … They give us time to eat snacks [which we carry with us from our homes]. Even while working, one group rests while the other works. We don’t have to work continuously, we get rest.
Pramila does most of the household work within the house but now her two eldest daughters help with the cooking, fetching water, and taking care of the animals (feeding and grazing). Pramila has to do the difficult and tiring work, such as fetching firewood and fodder. Jeevan also helps with some of the childcare and farming; he says:
The women have more of the farming workload. What we do is just the few ‘big’ jobs like cutting the barley, paddy and plantation. The men have to go for watering as the women cannot do it. And, the rest is on the women. If the children are here I cook food otherwise she does it and takes care of the children, washes their clothes along with collecting grasses and firewood.
I have just come back to the shop after harvesting for the past three days. I also help with tilling the land when we plant potatoes, cauliflower, etc.; however, tilling the land for paddy is women’s work and I cannot help then.
He further shares that sometimes all of the children stay at the hotel as they get electricity there, and so he has to take care of them then. He also says he has to cook for the children when Pramila is unwell and he finds that difficult to do on his own.
Pramila finds that tilling the land takes up most of her time, saying that ‘after tilling the land, in July, we plant maize and potato. We start tilling from May which goes on till September.’ Besides tilling, fetching firewood from the forest also takes up a lot of time. She usually cooks in the morning, eats, and leaves for the forest or the farm, depending on the season, saying, ‘tilling and planting are done in June, and hence, we have to get up at night to work. And, in October, I have to bring beans, cut paddy and collect fodder for the ox.’ The community also has a system where each family takes turns to come together and graze the animals.
Due to her household responsibilities and the multiple forms of paid work that she does over the year, Pramila gets tired and some of her work is left undone. She says that:
Yes, I miss out on the household. Sometimes I don’t get to wash the dishes, throw manure on the field [to fertilize]. I don’t have enough time to work in the farm. I keep postponing it. I do get tired. I get equally tired there and I am slow at work [community work or breaking stones]. I can’t be efficient at work.
Pramila feels that all work is hard and tiring, whether it is working on her farm or breaking stones, and so does not like to complain about it. She says she has been able to concentrate more on paid work since her children have grown up:
When they were small, I used to take them to all my workplaces – farm, stone-breaking site, places where I went to collect grass. I would make them sleep close to where I was working. That is how they grew up. Now, they have grown up a little. They go to school, return home. All they need is some snacks in the morning and at night. I don’t have to take them along.
Jeevan shares that because of their financial condition Pramila also had to work during her pregnancies up until the sixth month. He used to help her during her pregnancies. However, now that the children are older, he feels that her work should be less burdensome as childcare took up most of her time. Pramila shares that Jeevan does not help much in the household: ‘Yes, it would be nice if he helped but he doesn’t. He says he has other work.’ She wishes he would spend more time taking care of the animals. Pramila does not receive any additional help from either extended family members or members of the village.
Pramila values her paid work contributions to the household income as she is able to buy salt, oil, soap and stationery for the children in her family:
They have to buy stationery every day, which would not be possible without my work. Just the business cannot cover all the expenses. It is easier to run the household if two of us work and contribute to the family. We have so many children to look after.
She hands over the money she earns to her husband and he buys the household goods from the market and the rest of the money is used in the business. Pramila, however, feels that Jeevan does not appreciate her efforts much, ‘I think I have contributed to the family. I don’t know what my husband thinks, perhaps, he doesn’t think that I have contributed.’
Pramila would like there to be more livelihood options for the women in the village, in the form of community work. Both Jeevan and Pramila feel that once the children grow older they will be able to help more around the house, such as caring for the animals, and then their burden would lessen to some extent.