Rukmini is 32 years old, and lives in a nuclear family in a remote village of Surkhet District, Nepal. She has two daughters (14 and 10 years old) and a two-year-old son. Her husband (34 years old) recently left to work in Malaysia. Her parents-in-law (60 years old and 50 years old) live in the same house but have a different kitchen. They live with her brother-in-law’s family and work occasionally in their farm. Rukmini’s daughters go to school, whereas her son stays at home.
The primary source of income for Rukmini’s family is fresh vegetable and seed production from her own farm. She is a member of Pavitra Jankalyan Agriculture Cooperative and has been producing fresh vegetables and seeds for the past few years. Rukmini has no fixed hours of work each week, since she works in her own farm. Her husband used to work as a driver but has recently migrated to Malaysia. This means that the primary responsibility of taking care of household expenses falls to Rukmini, at least for the first few years of her husband’s migration. Besides seed production, Rukmini occasionally earns money by selling goats and buffaloes:
When there is enough production from the farm, I save money and use it to buy things. The money I earn from taking care of the cattle can be spent for daily expenses. My husband has recently started earning for the household.
In addition to paid work, Rukmini does the majority of the unpaid work on her own as well, including collecting fodder and firewood from the forest and all the care tasks inside the home. Rukmini’s eldest daughter, Meena, supports her mother by fetching water from the river and taking care of her siblings before and after school. As there is no drinking water provision in the village, both Rukmini and Meena have to spend a considerable amount of time fetching water from the river several times a day. Meena also does cooking and cleaning during the school holidays and sometimes works in the field during farming season. Rukmini often leaves her son with her mother-in-law when she goes out to paid work, but receives no other help from relatives or the community with her domestic work. There are no crèche facilities in the village.
Rukmini’s income has been instrumental in covering the household’s daily expenses and her children’s education. However, it has been difficult for her to single-handedly manage the care work and paid work. Her work burden particularly increases during farming season.
During the farming season, Rukmini either has to put care tasks (such as collecting fodder/firewood) on hold to go to paid work, or put the paid work on hold in order to finish the care tasks. She receives help from the community women during the planting and harvesting periods through parma, a labour exchange practice. This reduces the drudgery of farm work, but not to a great extent. Because of the imbalance, Rukmini feels she has not been giving enough time and care in both areas. She says:
I’m unable to clean the house – instead of [cleaning] I quickly cook the food and run to the farm, ordering my daughter to do a few tasks at home. Sometimes I [arrive] late to bring water. There are times when I can’t clean my house or wash my children’s clothes. Either I am able to finish all the chores and unable to start the work at [the] farm, or if I finish the farm work, my house becomes messy.
The imbalance of care and paid work has repercussions on Rukmini’s overall physical and emotional health. She is not able to rest and give enough time for personal care during peak seasons of paid work. While she continues to struggle with both care and paid work at the cost of her own heath and rest, she has to abandon her paid work sometimes because of her children’s ill health. She explains, ‘more than me, if my children fall ill during the farming period I have to leave all my work to take care of the children. My son keeps falling ill.’
While Rukmini is cautious of not burdening her children, in the absence of other carers in the family, she cannot help but transfer the burden of care work to her eldest daughter, especially when she is busy with paid work. Meena feels she does not get enough time to study and also has to miss school sometimes to take care of her siblings. Meena says, ‘yes I have to take [a] day-off from school. Recently I took off for a few days and last year I missed school for my brother.’
Rukmini finds farming extremely tedious and thinks if she could just focus on care tasks inside the home, it would automatically decrease her workload. She does not see the possibility of getting decent employment as she is not educated. She says, ‘when I have to work in the farm I do not get time to rest. The workload is lighter when I just have to do the household chores and I manage to take some rest sometimes.’
On the other hand, Meena aspires to work in an office as she does not want to experience the drudgery of work like her mother. Meena comments, ‘I wish I did not have to work in the farm or raise cattle. I wish to engage in service/office work.’