By the time the sun is out in Maidi, a rural town in Nepal, Sumin Shrestha has already been awake for hours. He starts his day by sweeping the dirt floor of his hut. Then, he goes to collect water before cooking rice for the morning. On the bed in the corner, his wife, Pabrita Shrestha, stirs, and he tries to remain quiet. She is four months pregnant, and he doesn’t want to wake her up.
Later, after serving breakfast, he’ll head to the forest to collect firewood before tending to the fields. Finally, he’ll make it back across the village to help Pabrita prepare the evening’s meal.
At 21 years old, Sumin says he only realized the importance of his role in the family recently. Growing up, he watched his mother work in the fields until she gave birth: juggling childcare with chores around the house, collecting water, gathering firewood and working in the fields.
His father was never around, he says. When his own child is born, he wants to be involved in everything.
Sumin’s decision to upend traditional gender roles in rural Nepal is part of a growing trend among young men in this hilly community, which is about 100 miles from Kathmandu. Together, the men have started to trade tips on how to support their partners throughout their pregnancies — swapping recipes for nutrient-rich meals, and taking the lead in asking midwives and medical professionals for advice about caring for their wives during pregnancy and postpartum.
“In the past, men here were totally outcast from anything to do with pregnancy,” says Sanjita Karki, a government health volunteer trained by One Heart Worldwide — an American nonprofit focused on reducing rates of maternal mortality across Nepal, both by improving access to medical care, and by raising awareness among fathers. “These days we make an effort to try and include them in preparing for the birth.” If a man is not cooperative, then volunteers will organize a separate meeting with him to make sure he understands the importance of his role.
“Once you change one man’s mind, the others follow,” Karki explains. “Husbands here are becoming advocates for sharing duties around the house. They say they can feel the culture shift, and that they’re becoming better fathers and better husbands along the way.”
For Sumin, this is how Nepali men should have been behaving all along. “Now everything is changing — and it’s better for the men and the women,” he says. “I’m not worried about Pabrita’s pregnancy any more. I think I’m going to be a good dad.”
Read the stories of eight fathers in the community, including Sumin, below:
“When my wife and I first got married, I didn’t care about the housework. I thought that was just for women.
I guess I have my sister to thank for changing my mind. She told me how important it was that I was present and helpful. She gave birth for the first time three months ago, and we started talking a lot about her pregnancy and how to be a good father and husband. When we were young, our father worked so our mother had to take care of us, while working in the house and the fields. I remember feeling bad for her — nobody ever let her rest. That’s a feeling that has definitely affected the way I behave with my wife now. But it took Pabrita being pregnant for me to realize it.
Now that I’m helping out, I feel much less worried. My sister taught me how to take care of my nephew. Now I know how to change diapers and how to bathe him. It makes me feel good to know that I can look after a child. It means I’m definitely going to love taking care of my own baby.”
“Before my wife got pregnant I didn’t notice the housework. I was raised to just focus on my own jobs. In Nepal, women and men have their own different duties — that’s our tradition. It’s just how things are done.
But when Rupa told me she was expecting, things changed for me. We started visiting a local health post for check ups, and I heard the nurses talk about how to make sure the pregnancy was as safe as possible. So many women die in childbirth here, so I listened to their advice. I realized that I had the power to help her — at the very least, I could take on the housework to make things easier and give her more time to rest.
The one thing my wife didn’t want to give up was her job. She works for an electricity company, and she enjoys it. So I stay home and take care of the housework and play with the children. If I have to go to work too, then I ask my parents to help.
I’ve seen first hand how a husband’s involvement can make a relationship happier. Honestly, I think our society would be better if we could change the perspective around gender roles. Here, sons are seen as the breadwinners, but I want to teach my daughter that she can be whatever she wants. “
“I used to work in Qatar, but I quit my job when I found out Laxmi was pregnant. I was so happy when she told me, I couldn’t even think of leaving her. I had to be there to hold our baby for the first time.
I didn’t know what pregnancy really involved at all. My mother told me that things were different when she was our age — she’d had to give birth at home without any nurses, and my father wasn’t involved in anything to do with it. She said that she wanted me and Laxmi do things differently. So we went to a medical center, and I made sure to take all of the advice very seriously. As soon as we left, I told her I wasn’t going to let her do any heavy work any more. We were in this together.
My father died when I was really young, so I don’t really remember him. But I know he didn’t spend a lot of time with us. I want things to be different for my children. I’m going to spend as much time as possible with them: playing with them, changing them, bathing them and making sure they get a good education. I really want to be a good husband and a good dad.”
“When I heard that my wife was pregnant, the first thing I felt was fear. Pregnancy here can be really dangerous: you hear so many awful stories of things that go wrong. The health center nearby is way better than it used to be, but it’s still not properly equipped for certain complications. In an emergency, it can take hours to reach the nearest hospital.
I made it my mission to do whatever I could to keep Sushma and our baby safe. As a teacher, I thought I knew a lot about biology, but when we went for meetings with the nurses, I realized how little I understood about pregnancy and women’s health. I know lots of men don’t want to get involved in that stuff, but I decided things needed to change. Soon I realized that by helping Sushma with the cooking and housework, we were growing closer as a couple. I thought to myself, if I can’t support her when she needs me, then what’s the point in being married?
When Sushma went into labor, I was so scared, I couldn’t bring myself to stay in the same room as her. It lasted 12 hours, and I spent every minute worrying that we should have gone to the hospital in Kathmandu. When I heard our daughter cry, I was beside myself with happiness and relief.
Helping my wife during her pregnancy taught me that I need to be there for her every day — not just when she’s expecting a child. Plus, this way I can spend time with our daughter. I had to raise myself because my father used to work in India and my mother was too busy juggling housework with working in the fields. I don’t want that for my children.”
“I was working as a plumber in Saudi Arabia the first time my wife was pregnant, and I wasn’t allowed to come home. I couldn’t go with her to any of her appointments and I didn’t know how she was coping. All I could do was ask my parents to be there for her. I told them they had to call me if anything went wrong. I remember I was working in a building with a group of other Nepali men when my mother rang me to say my wife was in labor. I couldn’t concentrate after that, I was so worried. It was only after several hours that she called me again to say that I was the father to a healthy baby boy. I was so happy that I called all the other guys on the work site and we had a small party.
After that, I promised Pooja that I’d never leave her alone like that again. When she was expecting again, I came home halfway through her pregnancy, just so that I could help her with the housework and take care of our son while she rested. When I cooked, I took care to make sure there were lots of vegetables so she’d get all the nutrients she needed.
I do spend a lot of time wishing that I could be around for my family more often. I want to stay in Nepal, but I need to earn enough money to give my children a future. I want them to have a good education and to have the chance to follow their dreams, but it means I lose so many important moments of their life.”
“Times have changed a lot since I was a kid. My mother told what she — and so many other women — went through: She had six children and she had to work until she went into labor, and then she couldn’t rest at all after giving birth. Women use to give birth in their houses without a midwife and they weren’t aware of things like having a healthy diet or not lifting heavy weights. So many children died that women got pregnant often — the more babies you had, the more chance there was that some of them would live.
I always felt bad for my mother when I was little. I remember asking her to rest more, but she couldn’t. My father used to work abroad and she was alone, raising me and my siblings, working in the fields and in the house.
Nowadays it’s not quite so shameful for a man to help his wife, but things still aren’t changing quickly enough. In our village there are still a lot of families where the men don’t help pregnant women. Tradition is a big problem.
I don’t want to be like that. Before, my wife used to work with me on our chicken farm. She would cut grass for our cattle and work in the fields and do all the housework. Now she just feeds the animals everyday, and I do the rest.
Sabita’s health is the most important thing to me — far more than work or money. She’s carrying our baby, so there are two lives for her to take care of. I couldn’t help my mother — the least I can do is be a good husband for my wife.”
“I was in Kathmandu for a job interview when Amrita called me to say that she was pregnant. I was supposed to stay in town all week for meetings, but I came back home immediately – I was so happy!
I didn’t know much about pregnancy, but soon after we announced it, a group of men from the village came to talk to me about how I could be a good husband and a good father. They told me that I needed to make sure she didn’t work too hard and that she ate healthy food. It was the first time I’d heard anything like that before. I was used to seeing women working in the fields until they gave birth. But I listened to them very carefully, and now I help Amrita as much as possible. We have a small field where we grow maize and millet, but I told her to stop working there with me. I don’t want to compromise her pregnancy.
Now I know what I do, I do feel bad for my own mother. My father worked in India throughout my childhood, and we didn’t spend much time together. I am trying to make sure my kids don’t grow up like that. I play with my son whenever I can. I even change his diaper — that’s seen as a woman’s job, but I don’t care. I know that if we run out of money, I might have to work abroad. So I need to make sure that as long as I’m here, I’m as present as possible.”
“I was working in India when my wife found out she was pregnant. She called me first thing in the morning, when I was still in bed, and I was so surprised. I didn’t know what to say. As soon as the happiness wore off, I began to worry. My employer wouldn’t let me go home to see her, and I was scared in case something happened. We were raised in a small village in Nepal, where women do a lot of hard work during their pregnancies. The responsibilities of men and women were divided — as a man, and as a father, it’s traditionally not my role to help her, even when she’s expecting our child.
I don’t like that way of thinking. From the first phone call, I wanted to be involved as much as possible. I asked what tests she was having, and what checks the local nurses were doing to make sure the baby was okay. When she told me that she had been advised not to lift heavy things, I listened very carefully. My goal in life is to take care of my family — not to stick to old-fashioned traditions about who does what around the house. Now that I’m back in Nepal, I’m trying to do as much of the domestic chores as possible, as well as the agricultural work. When our baby is born, I’ll do as much as I can to help raise them too.
In the past, women here had so many miscarriages because pregnancy was so dangerous, and they didn’t get the care or support they needed. I don’t want that for my wife. If we want to change society and make pregnancy safer for women in Nepal, we need to talk about this stuff a lot more. Until recently, pregnancy was always talked about like it was a woman’s issue, but the truth is, it affects men too, and we have to take responsibility.
That said, sometimes my wife does wants to do housework, and I’m not going to stop her. I just want her to know she doesn’t have to. I will cook and clean every day if it means she will be safe and our child will be healthy.
I know that after our baby is born, I’m going to have to go back to India eventually to resume work, but my wife will stay here. She has a job in Nepal as a teacher, and who am I to take that away from her? It wouldn’t be fair of me to ask her to follow me. As far as I see it, anyone should be able to do anything, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman. That’s going to be the first lesson I teach to my child.”