Livelihood Transitions of Women Workers During COVID-19: The Case of Domestic Workers in Dhaka

Domestic work is one the most common forms of informal work for poor women in developing countries. These workers generally come from poorer households; they have little assets, education, and skills, and hence a limited range of jobs to choose from. Due to the nature of work and informality, domestic work in Bangladesh, as in many other countries, is precarious. COVID-19 crisis has hit the domestic workers hard. A large number of them lost employment immediately after the pandemic broke out, and even after 18 months, the majority of them remained unemployed. Yet, they received very little public or policy attention. This research brief sheds light on the COVID-19 experience of the domestic workers in the context of Bangladesh to bring attention to this extremely vulnerable occupational group. 30 female domestic workers aged 18+ years from Dhaka city were purposively selected to cover different age groups, current occupational statuses (domestic work, other paid work, unemployed) and locations (those who stayed in Dhaka or returned to villages) to conduct semi-structured interviews between January and February 2021. The study found that domestic workers had a financially insecure life even before the pandemic, due to low income, lack of legal protection and voice, and their marginal social status. They were, quite probably, the first groups of workers to lose jobs during the onset of the pandemic—almost everyone in our study had lost their jobs within a day after the lockdown was announced. Their job loss meant a complete or substantial loss of income for at least two-thirds of our respondents. With the loss of their jobs, the workers had to find ways of stretching whatever resources they had. Few of them had small savings as they had other earning members in the household. But most were sole earners and had no savings.

Authors: Huq, Lopita; Sultana, Razia; Ashravee, Firoza; Jahan, Nusrat
Type:  Research brief
Year: 2021