Maya and Ramu are a young couple both in their mid-20s, from Medi Udaipur, India, a Gram Panchayat (local governance system) where most inhabitants are from tribal communities. In tribal culture, the family land is equally distributed among all the sons and is inherited upon marriage. Accordingly, Ramu moved away from his parents after marriage and inherited land from his family. Maya and Ramu have three children: a ten-year-old daughter and two sons aged five and three years old. All three children attend school which is not far from their house. Maya and Ramu both engage in farming on their land – Maya works five hours per day, 35 hours per week. However, this small landholding is not enough to sustain their family. Therefore, both of them also engage in casual paid labour either in agriculture or at construction sites.
In accordance with the prevalent gender norms in this region, Maya is responsible for most of the unpaid care activities related to the household, including: taking care of children, cleaning the house, washing clothes and dishes, fetching water and collecting wood. She finds fetching water, taking care of children and cooking to be the most time-intensive activities. If she has to leave the house for a short time, her eldest daughter takes care of all the household chores, except for cooking as she is too young for the task, which Ramu helps with. However, at such times Maya usually wakes up earlier in the morning to complete all the household chores before she leaves the house.
The volume and intensity of these care activities, especially caring for her younger children, has restricted Maya to engage in paid labour – especially as the work available in the region often has inflexible timings and offers little support for her care activities. Her husband explains, ‘the youngest keeps crying so she is not able to concentrate on work, she works on some days and some days not’. Maya also shares that, ‘the household chores are left unfinished when I go out to work.’ Unlike other paid labour options, farming offers her the flexibility to attend to her children or other household task. When she is out working on farms, Maya’s mother-in-law, Rani, looks after her children at her house. Even when Rani is watching over them, Maya still needs to take breaks in order to care for her youngest child. Besides farming, she has undertaken paid work in the local vicinity but not outside their village. Maya worked under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) for about a month, but found it hard as there was no crèche facility at the worksite. Unlike Maya, her husband engages in different kinds of waged labour depending on work availability.
Maya’s family is representative of the majority of families who have young children in Medi, Udaipur. Maya feels overburdened due to biased gender norms making her solely responsible for taking care of the children, the household, and laborious and time-consuming chores such as fetching water. She is also frustrated by the lack of decent work in the vicinity. A combination of measures at all three levels could help in lessening the arduousness of her work, thereby allowing Maya to engage in more paid work. At the family level, sensitization could yield a better distribution of care work, with Ramu taking on responsibility of some care work on a regular basis rather than as an exception. Secondly, better provision of basic public services especially pertaining to water and fuel would save considerable amount of time for women like Maya. Maya explains, ‘the water source is very far, we spend lot of time in fetching water. If the government can make arrangement for water supply, it would be of immense help.’ Measures regarding paid work would be the third way in which to support women. Maya was facing trouble in attending to her youngest child while working at the worksite – so providing, for example, crèche facilities at work would enable parents to engage in paid work without worrying for their younger children.