Sarita Kunwar is 30 years old, and lives in a remote village in Surkhet District, Nepal. She lives with her extended family, which includes her husband (30 years old), two children, father-in-law (66 years old) and mother-in-law (64 years old). Her husband works as an electrician. Her two children, a son (nine years old) and a daughter (five years old) attend primary school. Sarita herself is educated to Secondary level. Her father-in-law looks after livestock and sells livestock products. Her mother-in-law looks after the household.
Sarita is a member of the Pavitra Seed Cooperative and produces fresh vegetables and seeds under the Enterprise Development Programme. She does this on her own land which is 20 minutes’ walk from her home. Due to lack of proper irrigation provisions, Sarita has not been able to produce vegetables and seeds at a large scale. At present, she only grows potatoes and chickpea seeds. She also does poultry farming on the side. Sarita gets help with the vegetable farming from her family members, especially her husband and mother-in-law, particularly during ploughing and harvesting times. However, she is the one who primarily invests her labour in farming. Her husband is responsible for selling the produce. The income is kept by her mother-in-law. Sarita complains of not getting good prices for the vegetables and seeds she produces despite working hard:
It is definitely difficult, we have to constantly work hard, and we get just two or three rupees per kilogramme; we face many difficulties while selling… it does not have value here. No matter how much we produce, production is limited to its season.
The income earned by Sarita through vegetable and poultry farming has been helpful in managing basic household expenses and the childrens’ stationeries for school. Sarita is a member of several savings/credit and income-generating groups. She also holds an executive position in few of the groups. Her leadership position in the groups requires her to regularly attend meetings and trainings. Sarita finishes her daily household work before leaving for the meetings which are usually scheduled in the afternoon. When she has to go to district-level trainings, her mother-in-law and husband step in to take charge of the care activities. While her family members have not imposed restrictions on her group membership and resulting mobility, Sarita says that her mobility enhanced only after her children grew older:
I had gone to Kathmandu [for a training] earlier when my daughter was three years old… I did not want to go, I did not want to leave my daughter behind. Then my family told me not to miss that opportunity, and encouraged me to go… earlier it was difficult to leave the children behind but now they have grown up… it’s easier.
Sarita has experienced empowering benefits through her group membership. The leadership skills she has developed through her group memberships have enabled her to access and demand better public services through cooperative as well as local government bodies. These skills have also helped her strengthen her decision-making position within the family. She was the one within the family who had envisioned and executed the poultry farming enterprise.
Sarita’s mother-in-law is the significant other carer in the family. Besides livestock care, her father-in-law does not contribute much in other household and childcare activities. The family receive no additional help with childcare or domestic work from relatives or neighbours. While Sarita is responsible for cleaning, working on the farm, and collecting fodder, her mother-in-law does most of the cooking, water fetching from the underground well in the house, and childcare. During peak farming months, as Sarita’s work on the farm increases, her mother-in-law’s care burden inside home also increases. Sarita says, ‘I have not been able to give time to cooking and other work at home; mother-in-law does everything on her own. Nowadays, all I do is cut a container of grass and that’s it.’
Sarita realises that the redistribution of care work negatively impacts older women like her mother-in-law. While her husband helps in her absence, she feels the work-burden would be reduced if he helped regularly:
It would be easy if he would do more… He keeps loitering around, after all he is a man, he keeps going to different places, unlike us women who stay inside the house all the time. I tell him that and he replies saying that these work are to be done by women and he will just help me a little.
In addition, minimal presence of state services such as drinking water, irrigation and electricity in the village further increases the drudgery of Sarita’s unpaid work. They have a well in the house and electricity in the village; however, because of the low-voltage electricity provision they mostly have to rely on manually carrying water from the river.