Sabitra Tolangi is from a Dalit community and lives in ward number 6 of Hamarjung VDC in Terahthum, Nepal, where the culture of untouchability still persists and women are still considered as subordinate to men.
Whatever hardship I have experienced, it is done. Now I don’t think I will be able to do more. Now it is time for us to sing, dance, play and forget all those hardships.
Sabitra is 47 years old and is involved in ActionAid’s Unpaid Care Work Programme. As part of the programme she filled out a time diary on a regular basis to track her activities over a year long period.
Women who participated in the programme met regularly in a Reflect circle known as “Abhiyan Chautari”, to discuss their unpaid care work and the impact this has on their livelihoods and wellbeing.
Initially, Sabitra was one of the quietest women in the Reflect circle and it used to be difficult for her to even introduce herself. After regular participation in the circle she gradually started opening up. Now she can share her perspectives and put forward her opinions without hesitation or fear.
Sabitra Tolangi is married and has two sons and a daughter. Her daughter is married and has two children. Both of her sons are unmarried. The youngest son lives with her and is studying in a local high school. Her eldest son and husband have gone abroad to Qatar to work. Her son and husband had to seek foreign employment to clear a debt they accrued paying for health treatment for their son-in-law.
Sabitra’s family own a small plot of land but there is no-one to look after it as her extended family no longer live in the village. Most of Sabitra’s day is spent taking care of the house and farming to feed herself and her son at home.
She wakes up at 3 am, as she puts it “as soon as the cock crows”. She fetches water from a tap close to her house and makes breakfast and tea. She then sweeps her house and cleans the dirt made by the dogs and takes care of the cattle. She adds that despite all of this work,
....it is not seen. Our [women’s] work is not seen.
According to her time diary, she spends 6 hours a day on housework such as cooking, cleaning and laundry. She also spends over 4 hours a day working on the family farm. Since she lives alone with her son, she is responsible for all the work inside and outside of the house.
Sabitra says that she hasn’t seen any change in her neighbourhood regarding the recognition, reduction and redistribution of work and women still face a lot of hardships. She believes that in order to end these hardships women will need skills development training to earn their own livelihood so that they and their work will be respected.
The Reflect circle has broken up the monotony of her work.
We used to only look after cattle and do housework. We were not confident enough even to greet each other in public meetings. Now I can speak in public and even write my name. I have learnt to write husband’s name and my son’s name too. I can even write names of my sister-in-law and brother-in-laws. Earlier, when I asked for help, my son used to say, ‘Why don’t you do it yourself?’ But now he obeys and helps.
Before her husband travelled to Qatar he had stopped by during their Reflect circle discussion and threatened to disrupt the group. She told him that he could not do that because they were discussing how men and women must help each other. She was then questioned by her husband, “Haven’t I helped you in your work? I help you so much.” Sabitra agrees that her husband has helped her.
He used to help me grind the corn in Jaanto (traditional grinder). He even used to wake up early and help me in heating food and making tea for children.
Her husband stopped doubting and questioning her when he saw her in the Reflect circle discussion with other women.
After the discussion in the Reflect circle, and my discussions with my husband, he stopped nagging me. It was because he saw me with a group of women and saw how we were discussing the problems we were facing.
For Sabitra, the Reflect circle has become a space for women to find solutions to their own problems and has enabled them to raise their concerns in public discussions with the rest of the community.