Poverty and genderHouseholds headed by females have a lower poverty rate than those headed by males
Krishna Kumar Sah
The poverty line is the minimum expenditure required to fulfil basic needs, but it is a matter of judgment that can vary from country to country. The concept of poverty was discovered during the Second World War. Poverty was treated differently before 1940, and even the perception of poverty before that was different from what it is today. The Third Nepal Living Standards Survey (NLSS-III, 2010-11) shows that 25.16 percent of the Nepali people are living below the poverty line. Here, the poverty line was measured on the basis of annual income. People earning less than Rs14,430 per year were identified as living below the poverty line.
The report also shows that households who depend on agricultural wages are the poorest while households headed by professional workers are the least poor. Similarly, households headed by females have a lower poverty rate than those headed by males. This reveals that females are by nature more sincere and responsible to their families and have good managerial skills. In terms of development region, the Far Western Region has the highest poverty level of 46 percent while the Eastern Region has a low poverty level of 21.44 percent. The report also reveals that Dalits (so-called untouchables) of the Hills and the Tarai are the poorest. Brahmins, Thakalis and Newars of the Hills are the richest. People who have a high level of education have the lowest rate of poverty.
Fulkahakatti in Siraha district lies close to Mahendra Highway. Most of the people are farmers though labour migration to the Gulf is high. The sandy land in the north of the village is very suitable for vegetable farming while the land in the south is good for growing paddy and wheat. Motiyahi village in Fulkahakatti-7 is dominated by the Kamati caste who account for 108 of the 120 households there. There are very few Mahato, Sah and Danuwar families in Motiyahi. The village is known as a vegetable pocket. The main reason for this is that Kamati and Mahato farmers are regarded as experts in vegetable farming while the other reason is money. They have been engaged in growing vegetables even though it requires more hard work, expensive fertilisers, pesticides, seeds and irrigation. Almost all the families have at least one male migrant in the Gulf. The village’s economic status is satisfactory, but its educational status is very poor.
Among the four categories of poor, namely chronically poor, persistently poor, transient poor and never poor, the family of Kumari Devi Kamati of Fulkahakatti VDC-7 is persistently poor. She is the second wife of Shati Lal Kamati who sold all his landholdings totalling five katthas to feed her stepson and stepsister. The first wife Galo Devi Kamati used to work as a farm labourer while Kumari Devi looked after the family. The husband brought a second wife as the first one was childless. Now the family consists of eight members. Kumari Devi said her son had gone to work in the Gulf three times, but his income is not enough to repay the loans the family took to send him abroad.
The lifestyle of the poor differs in certain aspects from other members of society. Even though there are differences, they all share the common characteristics of poverty since they have similar circumstances and problems. Similar circumstances and problems tend to produce similar responses, and these responses can develop into a culture that is the learned, shared and socially transmitted behaviours of social groups. This type of reasoning leads to the culture of poverty. In Nepal, the diverse ethnic groups living here have different kinds of problems. But the commonalities are that they are mostly illiterate and are marginalised relative to the dominant community. They lack access to health facilities and employment opportunities.
It is necessary to pay attention to the composition of the household before making adjustments. Adjustments should not be based simply on the number of household members but also on the equivalences. Special attention should be given to the children, the elderly and female members of the family. Women are involved in all the farm activities like planting vegetable seeds and seedlings, cultivating, harvesting and selling whatever amount of produce they can carry to the local market on their person. But their male counterparts can sell a larger amount of vegetables by transporting them by bicycle or bullock cart.
Local Kapil Dev Kamati said that we should thank women who are never tired. Men cannot farm because they do only 25 percent of the work that women do. The girls here also rear goats. Therefore, the daily routine and activities of the women here provide a clear picture of their ‘triple role’— reproductive, productive and social. The dowry system also prevails in the village. Parents begin to worry when their daughters grow up and reach marriageable age. For families with a large number of daughters, marriage is like a burden as the groom’s family demands a lot of money and other things as dowry. Kamati worries about her two granddaughters as the amount of dowry has been rising with the changing situation. Even though the economic status of the village is satisfactory, Kumari Devi Kamati’s family is suffering from poverty.
Sah is doing an MPhil in sociology at Tribhuvan University and is a researcher at the Nepal Madhesh Foundation