Gender Roles in Economics

As an agrarian society, Nepal's Hindu majority is organized in quite specific gender-based economic roles. The farmers are primarily women, and perform a greater variety and frequency of farming functions than do men. With the exception of ploughing and maintaining irrigation canals, women perform all other agricultural work, such as preparing organic fertilizer throughout the year and carrying it to the fields, removing rocks from fields, sowing seeds, transplanting rice, thinning and weeding fields, and harvesting and storing the crop. Men may help in these jobs, but it is women who spend far greater time in them.

Among lower-caste artisans there is also a gender division of labor that is apparent in a variety of production functions. Women's work here includes negotiation and delivery of tools and other artisan products, obtaining raw materials like clay for pottery or bamboo for baskets, weaving baskets, sewing clothes, making wooden handles for tools, and product repairs. Artisans who do nonagricultural work for high-caste patrons will follow gendered economic roles specific to farming.

When additional farm hands are needed to supplement the family's labor, subsequent differences in pay between women and men is attributed locally to men's work being more difficult and requiring greater physical strength than women's work. Women are more likely to be members of reciprocal labor groups, a very effective way to ensure that seedlings are transplanted and that the crop is harvested in a timely and cost-free manner. In salt- and rice-trading communities near the Tibetan border, males will be gone for several months at a time (Fisher, 1986; Levine, 1988).

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