Rupa BK is 21 years old, and lives in Chandannath, Nepal with her husband (24 years old), two sons (aged five and one-and-a-half years old), two brothers-in-law (45 and 30 years old) and her eldest brother-in-law, Rambahadur BK’s 13-year-old daughter, Parbati BK. Of all the children in the household, only Rupa’s eldest son attends school. Parbati dropped out of school after third grade as she lost interest in her studies. The men of the household all work as daily wage workers around Jumla District. The village where Rupa lives is far up in the mountains, away from the main highway, and as such there are few economic opportunities for both men and women, especially for those who do not own land. Rambahadur explains that due to the remote location of the village, women would need to be contracted by a third party for breaking stones near to the road. As a result, women cannot go to do stone-breaking work by themselves and have to ‘rely mostly on men’s earnings.’
This is the case for Rupa’s family since they do not own any cattle or land, and are therefore completely dependent on the men in the household’s incomes. Rupa does not do any paid work as her children are small and there is no paid work available for women near to the village. Currently, she spends the whole day cutting barley on other’s farms within the village: ‘I left at nine in the morning and came back home at eight in the night.’ Rambahadur explains that this system is a part of a kinship network wherein, ‘the entire family, including the children help at other farms during the peak agricultural season in the hope of receiving support [mostly food grains] from them in the future when we are in need.’ He shares that they need to plan ahead for contingencies:
Life is difficult for all of us but we manage enough food for all of us. Especially, after [Rupa’s] delivery, we kept enough stock of food for that time by working [everyone, including Rupa, on other’s farms] a few months before the delivery.
During the past year, Rupa and Rambahadur worked for three to four days in the Karnali Employment Programme (KEP), a public works social protection programme initiated by the Government of Nepal, as she was selected for the programme under the criteria of women from food-insecure families:
We earned Rs 14,000 which the brother-in-law collected and spent. It was helpful as we were able to buy oil and a sack of rice. We get to eat and it is easier for us. [However], I asked for money to buy oil for home as I had worked for a few days too but he did not give me any.
She found the road construction work dangerous:
We talked about the fear of getting injured going to the village to bring stones [as] people of Syalbada [a village near the KEP worksite] did not allow carrying the rocks from there, so we had to carry them from the forest. We had to bring the stones from the forest up there; we injured our legs getting hit by the rocks or had the risk of falling down. So, there were many risks.
Rupa and her niece, Parbati, do all the care work and household work between them such as childcare, cooking, cleaning the house, and washing clothes. Rupa also has to fetch firewood. Parbati helps with fetching water and takes care of Rupa’s children when she is away for work (such as KEP, or cutting barley). She also took care of most of the household work and childcare during Rupa’s last pregnancy and when Rupa sprained her leg while fetching firewood:
I had pain in my leg when I last went to fetch firewood; I have been ill, last year too; I sprained my leg and could not bring firewood for a year. I could not even get up due to the sprained leg and couldn’t do much work.
Rupa finds some work time-consuming and burdensome; she shares, ‘bringing firewood and cutting barley takes up time. Similarly, cutting paddy is time-consuming; tilling the soil for beans and millet [also] takes more time, almost all day.’ Childcare also takes up a lot of her and Parbati’s time as both the children are very young. The men help with childcare if they are at home and usually cook if the women are menstruating, due to cultural menstrual taboos that forbid women to enter the kitchen and cook food. Rupa is concerned about her husband and his brothers’ alcoholism: ‘He mostly spends on cigarette and alcohol. When he goes to work he brings a sack of rice but spends more on cigarette and alcohol.’ She further complains that the men would help to cook a meal when she is away at the farm or forest ‘only when they are not drunk.’
Rupa could not do any housework when she was engaged in KEP work:
We would only come back at four or five in the evening after leaving at ten in the morning so I did not get time to do any household work. My niece did all the work. Sometimes I am unable to wash myself when I go far for work.
She also did not get time to rest at the KEP and was worried about her children when she was at work: ‘Children tend to cry and yell out of hunger so it does make you tense.’ As a result, sometimes she had to carry her child to the worksite in spite of there being no childcare provision at the site. She also complains that no safety equipment such as goggles or boots was provided: ‘I wish they gave us baskets to carry the stones rather than ropes… it would be better to be able to slide the rocks rather than carry them on your back and heads.’ She recognises that Parbati is burdened at a young age, especially when she is sick or at work: ‘My brother-in-law’s daughter has free time when I do the cooking and look after the child, she has increased burden when I go for work. If the men helped, it would have been easier for her too.’
Rambahadur understands the burden on Rupa and Parbati and he thinks that the lack of public services aggravates the burden:
There are two taps in the village, one each in dalit and non-dalit areas. However, the taps do not function most of the time and my daughter has to walk down to the river for fetching water which can take up to an hour or more.
He feels that having numerous functioning water taps across the village would help reduce the women’s burdens considerably.
Rupa wishes she had some opportunity for paid work near the village as she neither owns a farm nor can she leave her children and work further away: