A tired older Nepalese lady frowns
A “man’s job” in European (Western) culture is often understood to be of a physically challenging nature involving perhaps the use of heavy tools such as a pick, an axe or a sledgehammer. Labour in the mining industry, in the construction business, or on a farm require regular use of raw bodily strength and are generally considered “manly” jobs.
Nothing seems too hard for iron women of Nepal
Things are different elsewhere in the world. Southern Asia offered me ample opportunity to notice the contrast in mind set between the East and the West to physically demanding work and who it is that’s expected to perform it. Nepal most of all introduced me to some surprising roles reserved almost exclusively for women.
Convention has it here that most manual jobs be carried out by the ladies of the land especially when it comes to working on a farm. In Nepal it’s the women that manage the muddy rice paddies and grain fields. It’s the women that harvest the produce from the fields, that collect fodder for livestock, look after farm animals, gather firewood and fetch the water from the wells.
Nepali ladies take care of the grain harvest
Everywhere I rode the scenario was the same. Colourful outfits of yellow, purple and crimson on the hills around me signalled women hard at work in the fields. Rarely was a man to be seen in their midst.
Of course, the women were also mothers and took care of the young, managed the household and some even run a catering business on the side for tourists (like myself) passing by in need of a meal. Clearly no job was too taxing for the women of Nepal, they could handle it all individually or in a team.
For sure it’s no secret that illiteracy, a strong patriarchal society and religious beliefs have limited opportunities for women globally, not only in Nepal. The consequences of this are a resilient 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 to the next in a vicious circle hard to escape.
All have a role in the fields, both the young and the elderly.
There is little chance of economic empowerment for the female gender trapped in this condition 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 whatsoever.
There are other perhaps more controversial matters as well (for those brought up in the West). Child brides for example are part of the Hindu culture and it’s common practice in Nepal for young girls to find themselves in wedlock as early as fifteen.
Marriage for nepalese women to foreign nationals isn’t encouraged either. The right to Nepalese citizenship for children is passed on by the farther, not the mother and a child born to a non Nepalese male parent risks remaining stateless and without rights.
Regardless of all the above, things for Nepalese women have improved (albeit slowly) over the past decade or so. New laws have been imposed that recognise equality between genders. Women now can at last file for divorce at their own will and apply for government jobs a percentage of which are reserved exclusively for the female gender. However, it appears that laws are not always enforced due to hard set prejudice. Domestic violence is rampant and without a substantial shift in culture, progress in the condition of women, especially in the more rural and remote areas of country, remains slow.
Hard work with the hay for the ladies again.
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 or work in banks or are professionals and entrepreneurs. A few become holy men and gurus.
Guru poses for a picture at the Pashupatinath Templein Kathmandu.
Of course there are privileged women amongst privileged men but I honestly felt that a huge part of the country’s female population remained disadvantaged, left behind in the fields bare footed, stuck in the mud with a sickle and with little hope of a more gracious 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 is still damaged and will take time to heal.
Furthermore, a colossal earthquake in 2015 destroyed a noticeble part of the county’s infrastructure hurting the economy, too. Also, this landlocked nation is fighting to preserve its autonomy and identity from the political interests and pressures of India, its ambitious and often bullying neighbour. China, to the north, is no easy partner either.
Nevertheless, Nepal remains a beautiful country with warm welcoming people and many magnificent sights to admire and explore. Of course it has its problems, as all nations do but to me it remains well worth a visit. Keep an eye out for the hard working women if you’re there, they’re the ones that keep the nation on its feet. You can’t help noticing it.
Nepalese ladies relaxing in the shade
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