Sharmila Oli is 30 years old, and lives in a remote village in Surkhet District, Nepal with her daughter (11 years old) and two sons (8 and 5 years old). Her husband, Durga Bahadur Dangi (31 years old), works as a migrant labourer in Qatar. Her in-laws live opposite them in a separate household. All of her children attend school. Sharmila herself is educated to Secondary level. Sharmila works on her land and produces and sells seeds through the Pavitra Seed Cooperative under Oxfam’s Enterprise Development Programme.
Sharmila has always worked on her land, located 10–15-minutes’ walk away, and she mainly produces maize, wheat and paddy. Depending on the season she will work up to eight hours on the land each day. Nine years ago she became a member of the Pavitra Seed Cooperative and began seed production for greater profits. She single-handedly works on the farm as Durga Bahadur migrates out of the country for work:
It is difficult… I have to irrigate the land by myself which is difficult, plantation is equally difficult, if my husband and I could work together, and if he did not have to go out it would have been easier but he has to go [abroad] to earn enough money.
Sharmila also has to hire paid labour if she falls ill and is unable to work on the farm.
The money that Sharmila earns helps to pay for her children’s education and to buy rations for the household: ‘I don’t earn much but the money from seed production is enough to feed ourselves, to educate my children and meet other household expenses.’ She feels that she could generate higher profits if there were better irrigation facilities, although things are better than they used to be:
We don’t have enough water here and our farm is small as well, but unlike before, we have enough wheat and maize to feed ourselves now. I have enough money to buy my children’s clothes and pay their school fee.
Sharmila does most of the unpaid care and other work for the household and its livestock, including cutting grass for fodder, fetching firewood, fetching water, cooking, and cleaning the house, besides taking care of her children. She finds that chopping firewood, going to the mill, and fetching water during the summer take up a lot of her time and energy. Her eldest daughter, Deepa, helps her a lot with both care and unpaid work in the house. Deepa regularly helps with cooking, looking after their buffalo and cleaning the animal shed, sweeping the house, washing the utensils and caring for her siblings. On Saturdays, Deepa also helps her mother to fetch firewood, which she finds most tedious and difficult: ‘I hurt myself often when I chop firewood.’ The eldest son helps with caring for the cattle and sometimes helps with ‘cutting the firewood’, while the youngest son assists his siblings in caring for the animals in the house. All of the children are involved with fetching water for consumption and for irrigating the field. Sharmila’s mother-in-law takes care of the children if Sharmila has gone far for paid or unpaid work and returns late at night. When Durga Bahadur is at home, he will help with the cooking if Sharmila is away for paid work or has gone to collect firewood. He also helps with ploughing on the farm when he is home. Sharmila does not receive any additional support from members of the community.
Sharmila finds it difficult to balance both paid work and care work during peak agricultural time (four months in duration). She is unable to carry out certain unpaid tasks during that time:
I am unable to clean the children, my house and also the shed where my cattle are kept… I am unable to make food for them [her children] when they return from school and then they complain about it as they are all hungry. That is a problem.
She tries to do everything by herself, ‘digging, sowing seeds, irrigating the land, harvesting, etc.’, as otherwise she would have to hire outside paid labour. This drudgery leads to many physical ailments such as pain in her limbs and catching colds during irrigation. She seldom gets time to rest and is unable to recall a specific time that she has for resting.
Furthermore, Sharmila’s intensive paid work leads to her daughter being burdened with all types of care and unpaid work; Deepa complains of time constraints on her education due to this burden. She says:
My mother tells me to return early in the evening so that I finish all the work… She tells me to skip playing and return home [and] I get time to study only after I finish all my work [at home].
Sharmila finds it cumbersome when she has to attend cooperative meetings: ‘I have to wake up an hour earlier than usual and finish all the work… I cut the grass in the evening after I come back from the meeting.’ She feels that instead of having monthly meetings, they could take place once every three months: ‘it would help save both time and money.’ She also wishes the cooperative members could be provided with bigger seed-sorting machines: ‘if there are facilities, like the machines would be very helpful and save my time during the cultivating period.’
Sharmila feels her burdens would be less if she had more income as she could take out fewer loans. She wishes an organisation would do something about the irrigation system in the village: ‘we take turns so some [people] have fallow land and some [farms] are planted.’ More irrigation would help her to earn more profit from her farm.
The transportation facility provided by the cooperative to carry her seeds has lessened Sharmila’s burden to quite an extent. Similarly, she wishes the cooperative would provide members with useful information and training based on local contexts: ‘the organisation should send people to train us on the suitable grasses for this area... type of grasses that would be suitable in a place like this where there is shortage of water.’
She also thinks that the Village Development Committee (VDC) should be more proactive in meeting the women’s demands. She shares that the loan provided by the VDC for building a community hall for women in the village was insufficient: ‘the money that we received from them for building the house was too less so we invested in loan with the plan to building a house after we earn more from it.’
A combination of all these would help Sharmila balance her paid work with her care work in a way that she is able to earn a decent living without worrying about her care responsibilities (especially for her children) and without her feeling overstretched/overburdened. This would be a true picture of a ‘double boon’ situation for Sharmila.