A “man’s job” in European (Western) culture is often understood to be of a physically challenging nature and more often than not may involve the use of heavy tools such as pick, an axe or a sledgehammer. Manual labour in the mining industry, in construction, in farming and so on are jobs of this kind.
Things are different elsewhere in the world though and southern Asia offered ample opportunity for me to observe the difference in mentality between the East and the West with regards to physical work and who it is that’s expected to perform it. Nepal in particular introduced me to some surprisingly harsh, local womanly roles.
Tradition in Nepal has it that most manual jobs are carried out by the ladies of the land particularly when it comes to agriculture and life on the farm. In this country it’s almost exclusively the women that manage the muddy rice paddies and grain fields. It’s the women that harvest produce from the fields, that collect fodder for livestock, look after farm animals, gather firewood and fetch the water from the wells.
Of course, women give birth and take care of the children, manage the household and perhaps run a small catering business on the side for the odd tourist or on a hike. 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 imposed low social standing and subserviency for the female gender at large. It’s a trap for the women involved and a condition that unfortunately gets transferred from one generation of women to the next in a sort of subdued acceptance.
There is little chance of economic empowerment for the ladies as well. Farming in Nepal pays little to no wages and inheritance laws at present do almost nothing to favour the women of the households at all.
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 many young girls to find themselves in wedlock by the age of fifteen.
Marriage for nepalese women to foreign nationals isn’t encouraged either. The right to Nepalese citizenship for children is passed on at birth from the farther not the mother. Regardless of all 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 in the country 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 for women only these days. However, it appears that occasionally laws are not enforced at all. Domestic violence is also rampant in Nepal and without a substantial shift in culture, progress in the condition of women, especially in the more rural and remote areas of country, is slow.
The men? As far as I could make out, men in Nepal are generally employed in the forces: the army, the police. They take the lion’s share of the booming tourist industry as well, working 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, entrepreneurs. A few become holy men and gurus.
Of course there are privileged women amongst privileged men but I honestly felt that a huge part of the country’s female population was discarded, left behind in the muddy fields, stuck with the sickle and the rice and with little hope of a better future.
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 was damaged (still is) and it will take time to heal.
Furthermore, a massive earthquake in 2015 destroyed a noticeble part of the county’s infrastructure hurting the economy, too. Also, this landlocked nation is fighting to preserve it’s autonomy and identity from the political interests and pressures of India, it’s ambitious and often bullying neighbour.
Nepal is a beautiful country 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 but it’s undoubtedly well worth a visit.
Travellingstranger, Copyright 2018, all rights reserved.