Bhuma is 22 years old, and belongs to a migrant household in a remote village of Surkhet District, Nepal. She is a mother of two young sons (three years old and seven months old). Bhuma’s husband (25 years old) is a migrant and works in India as a daily wage worker. Her extended family, including her father-in-law (50 years old), mother-in-law (45 years old) and a brother-in-law (13 years old), live in the same house but have a separate kitchen. Her father-in-law works as a mason and her mother-in-law looks after the domestic chores. Bhuma studied at school until eighth grade.
Like other migrant households, the main source of Bhuma’s family income is remittance. Since the remittance is not always regular and sufficient, Bhuma also engages in small-scale income-generating activities herself, with no fixed hours of work each week. Before the birth of her younger son, Bhuma used to work as an agricultural labourer within her village and also in other nearby villages. She seldom does farm work now as it is difficult for her to leave her baby for a long period of time. She also raises chickens and sells them occasionally at her own house.
Bhuma manages all the unpaid care activities on her own. Her mother-in-law Khila’s presence nearby has facilitated Bhuma’s mobility, allowing her to do time-consuming care activities such as fetching water from the community tap (it takes about half an hour to walk to and from the community tap) and collecting firewood (which takes about four to five hours a day). Khila says, ‘[my daughters-in-law] are able to go out and work when I look after their children.’
Nevertheless, it is still difficult for Bhuma to do regular activities such as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of livestock while simultaneously looking after two small children. Bhuma misses her husband’s presence as he helps in many care tasks when he is home: ‘if [my] husband is around, he does cooking and cleaning.’
Bhuma’s paid work has been limited since childbirth as she is now only involved in paid activities that do not require much mobility. However, this has affected the household earnings and she depends more on her husband’s income to run the household. Bhuma’s mother-in-law often pressurises her to do more paid work and contribute to household income; however, Bhuma does not see the possibility of taking up more paid work anytime soon because of her care work burden. She says, ‘I don’t get time [to rest] during the day, only at night. During the day, I have to look after my children, along with other work.’
Furthermore, Bhuma recently underwent a stomach-related operation and since then has been unable to do physically intensive work. When she was sick, her husband left his work and returned to take care of his wife and children. Bhuma’s health troubles her time and again and her mother-in-law steps in to help her with cooking and childcare. However, Khila also remains sick and is unable to support Bhuma in any other care activities. Khila explains:
I don’t do much. I look after the kids, help in the field if possible, then feed everyone. It’s difficult until we are alive and we need to keep working… it’s been eight years since this illness started, and I could not carry heavy weight thereafter. I started getting weaker. Since I do not carry heavy loads I may be better in the afternoon, but it gets difficult for me at night.
Bhuma sees her husband’s presence as the most important support in reducing her care work burden, and wishes there were more available employment opportunities within the country. She also feels that the provision of services such as drinking water and irrigation could help reduce further the drudgery of care tasks, and enhance the possibility of paid work such as vegetable farming. Khila explains: