Livelihood Transitions and Coping with Shocks: Women in the Domestic Service Sector Coping with COVID-19

Domestic service sector workers were the first to lose their jobs during the pandemic crisis, exacerbating their vulnerabilities to poverty, since most did not earn enough to have savings to fall back on and were largely outside the government’s social protection schemes. The study looks into the COVID-19 impact on women working in the domestic service sector of Bangladesh and their livelihood transitions and coping strategies to help identify interventions that can be useful for their recovery.

Researchers: Lopita Huq; Dr Razia Sultana; Taslima Aktar; Afsana Alam; Saklain Al Mamun; Shravasti Roy Nath; Dr Naila Kabeer

Partners: London School of Economics (LSE)

Timeline: January–December 2021

Status: Completed

Method: Qualitative

Contact: Lopita Huq


Working Paper: Livelihood Transitions of Women Workers During COVID-19: Domestic Workers in Dhaka

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

Op-ed: নারী গৃহশ্রমিক: করোনাকালীন অভিযোজন ও টিকে থাকার গল্প

Blog: করোনা মহামারীকালীন সামাজিক সুরক্ষা ও নারী গৃহশ্রমিকদের টিকে থাকার কৌশল


According to the International Labour Organization (2018), 61% of the global workforce are informally employed, of which the overwhelming majority (90%) are in developing countries. One of the most common forms of informal work for women in developing countries is domestic work. Domestic workers, who are generally from poorer households with little education, assets, and skills, are excluded from the overall legal, regulatory, and policy frameworks of the country. This precarious scenario makes them highly vulnerable to livelihood shocks and job losses in the pandemic-induced crisis. 


The study aims to understand the livelihood transitions and coping strategies of female domestic workers and their households in the face of COVID-19 and its aftermath.


The sample consisted of 30 female domestic workers aged over 18 years who lived and worked in Dhaka city, from different age groups, occupational statuses, and locations. These were “untied” domestic workers who worked for more than one employer and lived in their own accommodations. The survey was carried out between January and February 2021 using semi-structured interviews. The respondents were asked to recall their lives and livelihoods before the pandemic (January to February 2020) and to discuss the period of strict lockdown (March to April 2020) and the changes that may have occurred after the strict lockdown was lifted. We also conducted five key informant interviews (KIIs) with trade union leaders and NGO staff working with domestic workers.

Findings and Recommendations

The accounts provided by domestic workers of their experience of the lockdown described lives that went from routine insecurity to extreme uncertainty. They were, quite probably, the first groups of workers to lose their jobs—almost all of those in our study had lost their jobs within a day after the lockdown was announced. The nature of their work, which demanded working in close proximity to their employers’ families, meant their jobs were terminated and their job responsibilities had to be reassigned to family members. The majority of domestic workers remained unemployed for at least two months of the lockdown, some for even longer periods.


The study is part of the Covid Collective initiative. Supported by the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the Covid Collective is based at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). The Collective brings together the expertise of UK and Southern-based research partner organizations and offers a rapid social science research response to inform decision-making on some of the most pressing development challenges related to COVID-19.