Sunita is a 19-year-old new mother from a village in Surkhet District, Nepal. She has a seven-month-old son and lives in an extended family with her mother-in-law (45 years old) and father-in-law (53 years old). Sunita’s husband (22 years old) and two brothers-in-law study in Kathmandu. Her father-in-law is a local leader and her mother-in-law works on the farm. Sunita studied until the tenth grade at school.
Sunita’s mother-in-law, Sushila, was the initial member of Pavitra Jankalyan Agriculture Cooperative. After her marriage, Sunita took over the membership because she was among the few educated women in the village. The family produces and sells fresh vegetables and seeds in their farm through the Cooperative. There are no fixed hours of paid work each week. Sunita and Sushila are responsible for planting, harvesting and selling vegetables and seeds, but since the birth of her grandson, Sushila has taken over most of the responsibility of production and sales. They produce monsoon and winter crops and earn an income of Rs 6,000–7,000 (US$60–70) in one season. Sushila mostly goes to the Cooperative (located around 2km away from the village) to sell, transporting the goods in a public vehicle. However, Sunita’s father-in-law, Keshav, keeps the income.
The care tasks inside and outside the household are mostly shared between Sunita and Sushila. Keshav occasionally helps with fetching water and taking care of livestock. Sunita’s care work burden has also reduced since the birth of her son. Now her responsibilities mainly include cooking, cleaning and taking care of her baby. She says, ‘after having the baby I am mostly at home cooking food, washing utensils, smearing the stove. I don’t go away, they tell me to stay home so that the baby doesn’t cry.’
Sunita also goes to the field sometimes to help her mother-in-law with planting and digging, whereas other household tasks such as collecting fodder and firewood, fetching water from the river, and farming are taken care of by her mother-in-law. Sushila explains:
Sometimes, I make food, bring water so that it is easier for my daughter-in-law. Her son is still young and needs to be fed by [his] mother, so I do her work outside the house too. It’s difficult with the baby so I’m helping out so that it’s easier for her. I consider her to be like my daughter. We have to help [our] daughter-in-law in her work.
Although Sunita thinks that doing household chores while simultaneously taking care of her baby can be tedious at times, she does not find it as intensive as household tasks outside the home: ‘It takes a long time in the field while harvesting, tilling the land for radish among others. My household chores take little time.’ Sunita also does not think that the community childcare facility is a good option, as it is easier to take care of her baby at home. The family receives no help with domestic or childcare duties from the community.
Vegetable seed production is the primary source of income for Sunita’s family. It has contributed to meeting regular household expenses as well as supporting her husband’s education. However, post-childbirth Sunita is unable to actively participate in the vegetable and seed production process. She also does not attend group meetings like she used to. Nevertheless, having an extended family and supportive mother-in-law as well as her paid work in a family enterprise has prevented Sunita from overburdening herself with the increased responsibility of childcare and paid work. The burden of most of the care tasks, paid work and community work has now shifted to her mother-in-law. Sushila, whose health condition was already weak, experiences further health problems because of the increased responsibility of care tasks and paid work. In addition, lack of drinking water and irrigation provisions in the village has further increased the drudgery of unpaid as well as paid work.
Sunita’s father-in-law Keshav recognises the depletion in his wife and sees that redistributing tasks among family members, especially from his side, could be one way to reduce the work burden:
More support from the family would include helping to look after the child. Instead of wasting my time talking with my friends while my wife is working, I can take the child and look after [him]; if I do that, the daughter-in-law would be free and help her mother-in-law in all the work. We can help that way. I am sitting idle, I am sitting and talking to you, I could take the child and help her do other work. Such kind of support can be helpful.
Sunita and her family think that provisions such as drinking water taps and alternative sources of energy (e.g. biogas) could decrease the time, poverty and drudgery of care work, especially for Sunita and her mother-in-law. Sunita’s parents-in-law also think that their daughter-in-law’s employment in a non-agricultural sector would lessen both Sunita’s and their burden, as Sunita could just focus on her job while they would take care of the household tasks. Sushila says, ‘if she had a job, she would have good earnings, and that would give us some facility too.’