Rupa BK is 24 years old, and lives in a remote village in Jumla District, Nepal with her husband, Chandra (28 years old), two sons (10 and 4 years old) and daughter (8 years old). Chandra works as a carpenter and mason and spends most of his time away from home. Rupa and her husband have recently separated from her in-laws, who live a few kilometres away. The three children attend a government school which is located within the village. Rupa herself has studied up to the 5th grade (primary level).
Like most women from dalit households, Rupa’s paid work is sporadic and mainly consists of wage work. During the farming season, she works as an agricultural labourer, carrying manure in others’ fields within the village and in nearby villages. She also occasionally sells firewood and carries apples to the market. Since the village is not accessible by motor vehicles, Rupa carries the firewood and apples on her back to the market which takes more than an hour. In addition, she does non-agricultural wage work, such as carrying stones, whenever it is available within and around the village. Out of her paid activities, Rupa finds working on the farm extremely difficult. For the vast majority of her paid work, she does not receive any other benefits in addition to her wages, although she does get one hour’s rest while doing construction-related work. She thinks she cannot argue for better benefits such as rest or leave as it might endanger her employment.
When I work for others, how could I ask for rest in the middle of work! They [the employers] would say that they pay us, and to return home [because of sickness/tiredness] early would not be good.
Rupa does most of the care tasks at home by herself. Her eldest son sometimes helps with fetching water as the drinking water tap is nearby, but he stays with his grandparents most of the time. Chandra only helps with the care tasks when Rupa is ill or menstruating. Chandra himself admits that while he occasionally helps with tasks such as taking care of livestock and fetching water, he does not like to do the care tasks inside the home. He asks for help from a neighbourhood relative who comes and helps with cooking and cleaning. Rupa’s mother-in-law helps with childcare when Rupa is sick or doing paid work since there is no childcare provision within the community.
Whenever she is on her periods, one sister from nearby comes to help out at home. I don’t know how to cook, I haven’t done it till now. Sometimes I even stay hungry. Sometimes, when my wife is away or during menstruation I go to my mother’s house to eat. I can’t cook at all, I can’t do it. I could have done if I tried but I am lazy to do it. I don’t even feel like trying to learn cooking. Sometimes when I cook, I put excess salt or something else. It is awful so I don’t feel like cooking. - Chandra BK
Rupa also seems to have internalised gendered norms and accepts the gendered division of labour:
Our job is to plant and till. I cannot tell my husband to do such things. The things I am supposed to do, I should do them.
Rupa started working once her youngest son started going to school. Because of the low-wage and sporadic nature of work, her income is just enough to buy stationery for the children. The family has to depend on Chandra’s income for other expenses, whose employment is also irregular. On the one hand, single-handed responsibility for care tasks makes it difficult for Rupa to invest more time and effort in paid work. On the other, lack of decent and regular paid work opportunities, low income and drudgery result in a greater burden and fewer benefits. Despite this, she feels her income is important to meet household expenses. The drudgery of both Rupa’s paid work and care work leads to adverse physical impacts. She suffers from body ache and has to miss out on work and income when she is unable to go:
If I feel pain on my body, if I cannot work at all, then I stay home. If not, I have to go there even if I feel difficult. If I stay at home, then I cannot earn anything.
Both Rupa and Chandra are of the opinion that redistribution of care work among family members would help reduce her burden. While Rupa expects more help from her children once they grow older, Chandra realises he could do a lot more to help reduce his wife’s workload, although strict gendered norms make it difficult to make that happen: