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A “man’s job” in European (Western) culture is understood to be physically demanding and perhaps involve the use of heavy machinery or hand tools tools such as a pick, an axe or a sledgehammer. Manual labour in the mining and construction industries, steel works and farming are considered typical jobs of this kind.

Ladies carrying wood
A man’s job?

Things are different elsewhere in the world and southern Asia offered ample opportunity for me to observe how attitudes can vary greatly between cultures. Nepal in particular introduced me to some surprisingly tough roles reserved for women.

Tradition in Nepal is such that most manual labour is carried out by the ladies of the land particularly when it comes to agriculture and life on a farm. In this country it’s almost exclusively the women that manage the muddy rice paddies, grain fields and harvest the crops. It’s the ladies that collect fodder for livestock, take care of the animals, gather firewood and fetch water from the wells.

Nepalese ladies at work
Nepali ladies take care of the grain harvest

Of course, women also give birth and take care of the young, manage the household and perhaps run a small catering business on the side for the odd tourist or two who happen to stop by. It seemed to me that no job was too demanding or hard for the ladies in this part of the world.

For sure its known that illiteracy, a strong patriarchal society and religious beliefs have limited opportunities for women globally, not only in Nepal. This has led to the trap of low social standing and subserviency for the female gender, a condition that is transferred in subdued acceptance from from mother to daughter, one generation to the next.

Harvesting grain
All have a role in the fields, both the young and the elderly.

There is little to no chance of economic empowerment for the ladies either. Farming in Nepal pays no wages and inheritance laws at present do almost nothing to favour the women of the households.

There are other matters that appear controversial for those like myself brought up in the West. Child brides for example are a part of the Hindu culture and in Nepal it’s common practice for young girls to find themselves in wedlock by the age of fifteen.

Marriage to foreign men isn’t encouraged either. The right to Nepalese citizenship for children is passed on at birth by the farther, not the mother. Children born from a non Nepalese farther risk remaining stateless.

Carrying fodder for the animals
Fodder for the animals, a heavy load for this young girl.

Regardless of the above, things for Nepalese women have improved (albeit slowly) over the past decade or so. New legislation has been imposed that recognises equal rights between genders and women can know file for divorce at their own will and apply for jobs in the civil service. In fact, a substantial percentage of all government jobs in Nepal are reserved exclusively for women these days. However, old ways are hard to give up and there’s hostility in some areas of the country towards the new laws.

Domestic violence is also rampant in Nepal and without a substantial shift in culture, there will be countless more female victims of abuse before real change is achieved especially in more rural and remote areas.

Nepalese ladies carrying hay.
Hard work with the hay for the ladies again.

The men? As far as I could make out, Nepalese men are generally involved in the forces: the army, the police. They take the lion’s share of the booming tourist industry as well, employed in the many guest houses and hotels of Pokhara, Kathmandu and elsewhere. Some work as taxi drivers or guides on the Himalayan trails. The privileged have government jobs, work for banks or are professionals and entrepreneurs. A few become holy men and gurus. 

Some fellas become Gurus
Some fellas become Gurus

Of course there are privileged women amongst the privileged men but I honestly felt that a huge part of the country’s female population was forgotten, left behind in the muddy fields, stuck with the sickle and the rice harvest, with little hope for a future with options to choose from.

It needs to be said that Nepal carries the scars of a ten year civil war that ended in 2006. The social fabric of the country is still damaged and will take time to heal.

Furthermore, a massive earthquake in 2015 destroyed a noticeble part of the county’s infrastructure substantially hurting the economy. Also, Nepal is fighting to preserve it’s autonomy and identity from the political interests and pressures of India and China, it’s ambitious and often bullying neighbours.

Nepal remains beautiful with warm welcoming people and magnificent sights to admire and explore. Of course it has its problems, as all nations do in this age of unstoppable globalisation. It’s undoubtedly well worth a visit and one that I would thoroughly recommend.

Ladies in Nepal relaxing in the shade.
Nepalese ladies relaxing in the shade.

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