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Nepal - The United Nations International Day of Rural Women, marked on 15 October, recognizes the invaluable role of rural women in agricultural and rural development. Making up more than one-quarter of the world’s population, and 43 percent of the agricultural labor force, rural women have important roles to play in ending world hunger and poverty. Here we highlight the growing roles and responsibilities of women in rural Nepal, where young men are leaving en masse to become remittance workers overseas. This is the first in a three-part series set in the Nepalese village of Nalma.

As in many other parts of Nepal, the village of Nalma has lost a large proportion of its young male population to migration.

Nearly three-quarters of this demographic now works overseas, sending money back to their families. They are part of a global Nepalese workforce that contributes almost 30 percent of the country’s gross domestic product via remittances.

Forests News spoke to some of the major groups left behind – such as women and the elderly – to hear how their lives are affected by the phenomenon.

   Sita Pariyar, 27, has balanced housework, childcare and field work alone for a year now since her husband moved to Qatar as a migrant worker. CIFOR Photo/Mokhamad Edliadi

Sita Pariyar, Dalit

When asked whether she would have preferred a love marriage over arranged, Sita Pariyar answers, “How does one know what love means at that age? We were so young.”

Sita, now 27, married her husband when she was 16 years old, and he was only 15.

In the 11 years since, love has meant succumbing to the reality of being a young couple in Nalma. For Sita, this means long days balancing a compendium of household chores with caring for her two elementary-school-aged children, as well as earning a minimal wage working millet fields and rice paddies.

For nearly a year now, she has gone about these tasks alone after her husband, 26-year-old Tika, moved to Qatar to find work. The intention was for him to help pay off their family’s mounting debts and send a more livable sum of money home, but this has not gone as planned, and she has been left struggling to keep everything afloat in his wake.

“He had never been out of the village before,” recounts Sita. “He went to Kathmandu three times, and then he went abroad.”

Once the breadwinner went abroad, we didn’t have the means to survive for three months

Sita Pariyar

Tika’s inexperience out of the village resulted in a series of unfortunate events, including a misspelling of his name that led to his visa being cancelled, followed by three months of living in Qatar jobless until his agency was able to find him work.

“Once the breadwinner went abroad, we didn’t have the means to survive for three months. We took out such a big loan to send him [to Qatar]. How are we going to pay it off? How am I going to pay my children’s school fees? I called the manpower agency and told them that either you pay for my husband’s return ticket and send him home, or you have to cover all our living expenses until he is able to send us remittance. Being unemployed for three months is not a small thing for us.”

In order to fill in for his lack of wages, Sita temporarily took over her husband’s former job doing road construction for two months. However, because he had only signed wage slips for one month, she never received a salary for the second. She went back to work as a daily wage agricultural worker in the millet and rice fields, earning Rs. 225 per day (equivalent of USD 2 per day), a wage set by the village elders that typically increases by about 30 cents each year.

“We work from 10 until 6. If you have to weed paddy fields, that is fine, but to plough and make canals around the planted areas—that’s hard work. In comparison to the work we do, the wage is low.”

Meanwhile, the agency finally found her husband work, but at a salary of USD 274 per month, part of which had to cover his own food and expenses. Sita sold a buffalo and the few goats she had in order to cover school fees and basic household needs until finally he managed to obtain a better wage. He now sends home about USD 190-220 per month, but it’s still barely enough to make ends meet, let alone pay off their loan.

In comparison to the work we do, the wage is low

Sita Pariyar

Sita says that unless her husband can get a salary increase in his current job, it would be wise for him to return home or, better yet, find a different job overseas. Now that her husband has gained experience migrating, she thinks that he will not be duped and will know how to stand up for himself the next time.

When contemplating her future in the next five to ten years, Sita says:  “Ah, how will it advance? My husband is an uneducated person. He will always remain a semi-skilled worker. If he gets a good job, maybe there will be a better future ahead.” She smiles in strength. “It is only going to be like this. I don’t think that I will have a prosperous life, but things will go on.”

   Min Kasi and Tulasi, an elderly couple, had six children, but none are left in the village of Nalma to help tend to their land. CIFOR Photo/Mokhamad Edliadi

Min Kasi and Tulasi

Of Min Kasi and Tulasi’s three sons, the eldest lives with his wife in the UK, the second works as a bus driver in Besi Sehar, and the third is also in the UK hoping to be recruited into the British army. Of their three daughters, the eldest is deceased, the second is married, and the third is studying in neighboring Pokhara city.

All of Tulasi’s brothers and their families have migrated elsewhere too. Now, with their six children only present at home through the sound of their voices on the telephone, Min Kasi and Tulasi have no family in Nalma but each other.

Their children’s migration may be seen as a blessing of being part of the upper Gurung class, but it has in turn become something of a curse for the elderly couple. Their 25 hal (approximately 30 hectares) of land in Nalma was once planted with rice, but now only about one-fifth of it is cultivated, while the rest is fallow, slowly returning to secondary forest.

I have been farming a small portion, but I cannot do hard work

Tulasi, grandfather

“My brothers haven’t taken any land, so all the land can be said to be mine,” says Tulasi of his landed inheritance. “They have all taken their own paths. I have been farming a small portion, but I cannot do hard work.”

Perhaps a generation ago, this wouldn’t have been a problem. Some of the children might have stayed behind, and the Dalits would have still been abiding by village traditions and sharecropped the land or worked as daily laborers. But this is no longer the case.

“Where can you find laborers?” Tulasi asks. “Everyone is going abroad. They don’t listen. They act like they are superior. Before, we used to get labor. Now it is hard. Even if you have money, it is hard.”

“We do employ laborers when they are available,” Min Kasi adds. “We employ around 10 to 15, but it all comes down to money. If you pay, then you can get. If not, you cannot. And the children [laborers] who study are only free on Saturdays.”

Their UK-based eldest son is now the family breadwinner and sends some money, but most of what he remits goes to his other siblings to help pay for their rent, clothes and food. Only what’s left over goes to help his parents, and the food that is produced from their land is no longer enough to fill their stomachs all year round.

In the end, it’s only the mother and the father

Min Kasi, grandmother

“Our children ask what’s happening with us, they ask about our health and about everything,” says Min Kasi. “During the Dashain and Tihar festivals, everyone will come back. They go to the bazaar. I enjoy that. But when it’s over, they don’t stay here. In the end, it’s only the mother and the father.”

Livestock is a small source of extra income for the couple—goats that they sell for special occasions and two oxen that they lease out during planting seasons—bringing in about USD 35 for four or five days’ rent. Min Kasi also distills liquor, particularly ahead of the annual festivals when it’s in demand. But otherwise, days are spent preparing meals, weeding the paddy fields, and gossiping with friends as they work in the village mill.

“The days go by just like that,” says Min Kasi. But the nights are different. “It is difficult for me to sleep sometimes. What will happen to us in the future? These things come to my mind.”

This research was conducted in collaboration with Forest Action Nepal.

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For more information on this topic, please contact Bimbika Sijapati Basnett at B.Basnett@cgiar.org.
This research was supported by UK aid from the UK government.
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