Nepali women sustained the country’s rural economy and ensured wellbeing of families while most males in hills and plains have left the country for earning a living. But while sufferings of men abroad are reported with frequency, similar kinds of suffering of women back home tend to receive little attention. Situation of women in Karnali offers a telling example. Women of this region have been carrying out majority of farm works—from digging the fields, sowing seeds and cultivating crops and vegetables to irrigating farms and harvesting agricultural produce. This has taken a considerable toll on their health and wellbeing. According to various assessments, women there carry out around 75 percent of highly labor-intensive works at the cost of their own health. Here is a story of Bhadri Sarki, 30. She suffered from uterine prolapse which was the result of strenuous works during pregnancy and immediately after birthing. Now the mother of three children, Sarki was just 16 when she first gave birth to a daughter. She never got adequate rest because she had farm works and household responsibilities to take care of.
The problem is compounded by the fact that most husbands of Karnali women leave them behind in search of work in India. This is why these women have to engage in labor-intensive works such as lifting heavy weights like a load of timber and jars of drinking water, which ultimately lead to falling of wombs. This is the shared fate of most women of Karnali districts: Kalikot, Dolpa, Humla, Jumla and Mugu. In these districts, girls are often married at young age and they have to bear the burden of family responsibility from early age. As is the case, Karnali ranks the lowest in Nepal’s Human Development Index (HDI). Nepal Human Development Report 2014 puts Karnali’s HDI value at just 0.398. Multiple factors account for women’s woes in Karnali. First is the reluctance to seek treatment even if it is free of cost. And even if they go for it, in lack of helping hands in the family they cannot afford to take adequate rest post-surgery. And then there are various traditional stigmas and beliefs preventing women from seeking treatment for ailments including uterine prolapse. Some women also tend to believe surgery renders them unable to work for the rest of their lives. As a result, these women have to face various physical, psychological and social consequences.
Something needs to be done about these suffering women urgently. First, agriculture of this region must be mechanized. A 2002 study reported high prevalence rate of uterus prolapse in Karnali, most of them caused by heavy farm works. If farm works could be made easier, some of these cases could be reduced. Ensuring availability of drinking water near their homes will save time and physical exertion women have to face while fetching water from far-off springs and taps. If more road tracks can be opened, it would relieve the burden of having to carry agricultural produce including apples and herbs on their backs to distance market. Karnali now has its own provincial and local governments. Their priority should be to ensure health and wellbeing of women who are sustaining agrarian economy of the region. Policymakers in Kathmandu should not just be watching while majority of women in far-flung villages are suffering from the problems that could be solved through timely policy interventions.