Rimkala BK is 35 years old, and lives with her extended family in a village in Jumla District, Nepal. Her family members include her husband (46 years old), two sons (18 and 15 years old), two daughters (eight and five years old), and her father-in-law (70 years old). Her eldest son has dropped out of school and loiters around the village, while the younger children go to school. Rimkala herself has never been to school. Her husband, Harka, is a mason and works in the village. He suffers from partial visual impairment and cannot see from one eye. Rimkala and her husband are the only earning members of the family; however, because of his disability as well as a lack of regular employment opportunities, Harka remains unemployed most of the time.
Rimkala is a worker in the Karnali Employment Programme (KEP), a public works social protection programme initiated by the Government of Nepal. Her household was selected for the canal construction project for the year 2016. She and her husband substitute each other for the work. Harka once injured himself at the KEP site, and therefore Rimkala is the one who goes there most often. The worksite is located a two-hour walk away from Rimkala’s home. The roads to the worksite are mostly walking trails and inaccessible by vehicles. She shares her fear of commuting to the workplace and working in difficult geographical conditions: ‘The road is difficult with steep hills. I always remain scared of getting injured or dying… while carrying and shifting the stones. We fall; sometimes we fall in the canal. It keeps happening.’ She also points out that the workers have not been given any safety gear, such as helmets, goggles and gloves, like they were given last year; however, none of them protested. Rimkala works for eight hours on the KEP worksite, however because of the long commute she spends a total of 12 hours in KEP work per day.
As the KEP provides only 35 days of employment, Rimkala takes up agricultural and non-agricultural wage work, such as carrying manure and breaking stones, within the village or nearby areas at other times. However, these paid work options are not regular and have to be done as and when available:
I do carry manure. I have to carry it if it is not enough. We are seven people, sometimes it is enough, sometimes it is not. I keep getting worried if the grains are not adequate for six months. I have to carry it.
Rimkala is also responsible for looking after most of the unpaid care tasks at home. Harka sometimes helps with cooking and taking care of livestock when she is away. Their second eldest son also occasionally helps with fetching water and cleaning the house. A drinking water tap has been installed in every household in the village through a non-governmental organisation project; this has helped reduce Rimkala’s care work burden, as well as her son’s, to a great extent. In addition, the presence of flour mills within the village has reduced her time poverty. Rimkala often leaves her youngest daughter in the care of her elder children or father-in-law when she does paid work; there are no state or community-run childcare facilities in the community.
The lack of decent and regular employment opportunities in the village has put Rimkala and Harka in a vulnerable position as they have to constantly look for jobs and do whatever comes their way in order to survive and run the household. It also weakens their bargaining power. Even after the work they do, their income is sufficient only for day-to-day household expenses and the children’s clothes and stationery for school.
What can we get with that Rs 500? We want to eat sweets, wear nice and warm [clothes] as it gets cold. And the money finishes just like that. You do not get good clothes until you have 1,000–1,200 in hand. I get clothes and cover my children and myself… It worries me when I am working that it is not sufficient. Whether it is my fate, or anything else while all others are having a good life.
Moreover, her involvement in paid work leaves Rimkala with less time to do care tasks and increases her burden in the absence of support from her family members:
When I am not here, no one sweeps the floor, no one washes the dishes… the clothes are thrown everywhere. The meal is not cooked. Children roam around. When I come home, I cook food, call them and feed them.
Both Rimkala and Harka emphasise the need for regular employment opportunities. While Rimkala wishes to be involved in paid work related to livestock raising and vegetable cultivation, Harka highlights the need for more employment programmes like the Karnali Employment Programme.