Sita Karki is 30 years old, and lives in Surkhet District, Nepal with her two daughters (ten and six years old) and son (three years old). Both her daughters go to a nearby school, while the youngest one is yet to attend. Sita herself is educated to Secondary level. Her husband, Nirmal Karki (32 years old), has migrated to Saudi Arabia for work as a wage labourer. Sita lives in a village far up in the mountains from Mehelkuna town centre and she has to walk three kilometres to another ward before she has access to the erratic public transport available in the area.
Sita works as a vegetable seed producer in one of the farm cooperatives that is part of Oxfam’s Enterprise Development Programme. She receives seeds from the cooperative for her farm. She also runs a small shop attached to her house: ‘The money [from the shop] is enough to buy salt, oil, soap, soda. If not, I can feed my children. It’s good to have that money.’ Sometimes her eldest daughter, Deepti, attends to the shop while Sita runs errands for short durations away from the house; however, Sita shares that when she is ill, ‘my neighbours may help only when I am ill but mostly I keep my shop closed.’ Overall, Sita does 3–4 hours of paid work per day. With some of her savings, Sita has also begun to raise some local chickens (native to India) which she can later sell.
Sita does most of the household work such as ‘cooking, washing utensils, fetching water, fodder, taking care of the children and washing clothes.’ Given that she spends much of her time at the shop and doing other unpaid care tasks, Deepti is also involved in household tasks and caring for her siblings. Sita says, ‘my daughter helps to cook, bring water, look after her brother and the shop, feed the goats... she only helps me in the evenings and during holidays.’
Sita finds managing the shop and caring for her children most time-consuming. Since she does not get much support from others in the family and community, she finds it difficult to manage both her paid and unpaid care work: ‘I close the shop when I have to finish small works but I don’t manage to go far, to collect firewood or grasses, fetch water; however, I come back to cook.’ On occasion, her neighbours may mind her children if she goes into town. The lack of support within the home also leads to Deepti being involved in some of the house work, childcare and farm work. Deepti says, ‘I help my mother with cooking and taking care of the shop. I cut the vegetables before I go to school... I also help in tilling the land but I don’t like to water the fields as it is difficult.’ Deepti also shares that her younger sister, Jharna, also helps by ‘bringing a small vessel of water.’ There are water taps close by but these are not functional all of the time. Although Sita says that she makes sure that Deepti’s studies are not affected by her involvement in care work, Deepti admits that if her mother is not around to do the work then she is responsible for cooking, and caring for her siblings, and this affects her time to study.
Sita says she manages to get time to rest but then she does not have time to attend training sessions planned by the cooperative (because of the shop and her unpaid work) that would help her to have better yields. She does, however, like to attend community meetings on matters related to water, forest, etc., but this comes at a loss: ‘I learn new information [at community meetings], I learn to express, I learn something... but sometimes when I have to [attend these community meetings], I do feel that my business suffers, and is in loss [as I have to close my shop to attend].’
Sita is unable to articulate how the state and organisations working in the area could help with balancing her paid work and unpaid work. Finally, she shares that having a water source close-by to her home would help as currently they ‘have to go till the river which is further down multiple times to fetch water’, which is both time-consuming and exhausting.