Mehelkuna, Surkhet

Case study

Urmila Dhakal

Access to skilled paid work and support from parents is essential to single mother Urmila
When she is home, she does everything, cuts grass, etc. She studies in the evening, otherwise, she cuts grasses, brings water, helps out in the farm, she does everything that we do whenever she has time...

Since separating from her husband a year ago, Urmila Dhakal (28 years old) has been living with her parents, Hariprasad (64 years old) and Rupa Dhakal (60 years old), along with her ten-year-old niece and her four-year-old daughter, both of whom go to school. She is a graduate and used to teach in a school until the separation. At present, she is working as an office assistant at an eye hospital in the main town.

Urmila primarily looks after her child and helps with some of the unpaid work before and after her paid work at the hospital. In the afternoon, when she is away at work, her mother looks after her daughter and her niece, ‘they [both the parents] do it. Mostly, my mother cooks more than me; she looks after my daughter… bathes her, washes her clothes, combs her hair, makes snacks in the afternoon and feeds her.’ She also helps them with tasks such as cutting grass and going to the flour mill on Saturday which is her weekly day off. Her parents encourage her to study well and find a good job and do not expect her to do much care and unpaid work. Hariprasad shares:

When she is home, she does everything, cuts grass, etc. She studies in the evening, otherwise, she cuts grasses, brings water, helps out in the farm, she does everything that we do whenever she has time… we do not expect her to help too much as we do all the work whether she is able to help or not.

Urmila has been working for the past year as a volunteer with limited payment at the eye hospital. She earns Rs 7,000 per month (US$65) and works six days in a week for eight hours every day. It takes her an hour to walk to the hospital from her home. Her father elaborates:

I think the Village Development Centre (VDC) instructs the hospital to pay the salary. In fact, the hospital has sent her for training that taught her to make the glasses. The hospital provides her allowance in various situations but the salary is given by the VDC.

She is also expected to work late and accompany the doctor to nearby wards in case there are more patients. At the time of cultivation, she also helps out on the farms in the mornings and in the evenings after returning from work. This is the time when she is unable to give much time to anything and feels burdened.

Urmila feels she has no choice but to work as she is now a single mother, ‘I earn just enough to be able to take care of my expenses… I cannot do without it [paid work]. It is compulsory.’ Her father shares that his estranged son-in-law has promised to provide for his granddaughter but he is skeptical:

It will be easier for me if she is able to raise her child with that job later. I don’t think that her father will look for her anymore; it [the court verdict] was just a formality. I’m sure he has married [again] and started a new family. She will have to raise her daughter [on her own] eventually.

Between her full-time job, studies, care and unpaid work, Urmila wishes she had some time to be with her child: ‘if I had some time in hand, I would like to spend it with my child. I don’t get enough time to spend with her.’

Given the nature of their daughter’s work, both Hariprasad and Rupa are burdened with childcare and doing unpaid work. Besides bringing up Urmila’s daughter, they are also raising another granddaughter whose mother passed away when she was two months old, whose father re-married and refused to look after her. Rupa does all the household work and also takes care of the two grandchildren and the cattle. Rupa states that her husband, Hariprasad, also helps her a lot:

My husband does the same, he is a helping hand when there is time constraint, he cuts grasses, things like that, sometimes when I am unwell, he cooks as well. I couldn’t yesterday so he cooked the food. We have to plough the land and cut the grasses.

The other sons have also migrated out of Nepal to earn, and most of the burden of the farm falls on the elderly couple and other women in the extended family. Rupa finds it especially difficult during cultivation time:

We have to be in the farms the whole night to cut the paddy or the wheat. I also have to do other [household] work, feed them and then take care of the buffalo… the only time I get to rest is now when there is not much agriculture work.

Hariprasad is overwhelmed with all the care work that he and his wife have to do:

It is physically tiring and difficult, I have aged but I have to educate them, raise them, and provide clothing, food. It is difficult, I am 64 years now and it’s time for us to retire but my sons are away and I have to look after their farm too. It’s difficult physically but we have managed to fulfill our basic needs somehow.

Urmila wishes there were better roads and more job opportunities for the educated. Hariprasad would like to see better irrigation facilities as the water from the canal only reaches some parts of his farms. Rupa would like to have a mill close by as at the moment it takes almost four to five hours to complete the work. All of them agree that having childcare centres nearby would help them all to take care of the children and ease their burden. 

About Urmila Dhakal

25-29
Formal employment
Joint control
Outcome: 
Towards a double boon
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Activities shown are a single day snapshot in the life of the woman.