Addressing work‐life balance challenges of working women during COVID‐19 in Bangladesh – Uddin – – International Social


Working women have been subjected to tremendous changes and upheaval due to the global COVID‐19 pandemic. Amongst other challenges, attaining satisfactory role balance is one of the key challenges working women face. Achieving a satisfactory role balance is challenging for women as they have to perform a disproportionate number of domestic roles. According to Moreira da Silva (2019), women and girls are accountable for 75 per cent of the total household chores. Besides, an International Labor Organization (ILO) report found that, on average, a woman spends four hours and 25 minutes per day accomplishing domestic and care work compared to one hour and 23 minutes by their male counterparts (Pozzan and Cattaneo 2020). This uneven distribution of work between men and women poses many challenges for working women to find a balance between work and their home roles. The imbalanced work and family life, stemming from uneven domestic family role distribution, also creates barriers for their career. Women are further involved in a myriad of other responsibilities that increase the risk of role conflict.

Due to the emergence of COVID‐19 across the world, the extent and amount of domestic work has increased significantly along with children being out of school, increased care duties of dependents, and extensive cleanliness and health services (United Nations 2020). The outbreak of COVID‐19 has generated benefits for some people; for example, there was a 20 per cent drop in the Japanese suicide rate in April 2020 compared to April 2019 (United Nations 2020). Moreover, working people have to spend less time commuting to work and therefore have more time to spend with their families. A survey among parents in the UK reported that there was strong bonding among family members due to spending time together during lockdown, in spite of the heightened challenges of integrating work and home responsibilities (Roshgadol 2020). Similarly, a Turkish study found an improvement in marital and family relationships (Alhas 2020). However, research among parents in the United States reported that the outbreak of coronavirus has generated more stress and poor mental health due to the contagion possibility of working mothers (Hamel and Salganicoff 2020). This finding suggests that working mothers may bear a bigger portion of the burden, which places them in a challenging position with regards to role balancing. Moreover, during lockdown, childcare and other support services have not been available for many working women, thus increasing pressure on women and limiting their ability to work. Domestic and care roles are borne by women due in part to the traditional gender roles and economic participation of women. Participation of women in increased domestic chores tends to reduce their productivity (Power 2020). Apart from that, working women worldwide have been experiencing layoffs, pay cuts, and being furloughed as a result of COVID‐19 (Carnevale and Hatak 2020). A study in the United States has reported that one‐third of working women have already been laid off, furloughed, or faced pay cuts (Del Boca et al. 2020).

Similar to other contexts, working women in patriarchal societies like Bangladesh have been experiencing the above‐mentioned barriers that make juggling their work and family roles more difficult as they have to attend to their increased family roles. As echoed by Chloe Cooney (2020), the COVID‐19 outbreak has highlighted how problematic and challenging the work‐life interface is for Bangladeshi women. There has always been pressure to accomplish care tasks and other family and household chores, which necessitate time beyond paid work time. Such demands to accomplish both work and family roles were already stressful, irrational, and overwhelming but are now likely to worsen women’s overall condition. A recent study in the UK revealed that working mothers experienced 40 per cent more stress than the average person (Chandola et al. 2019). Similar findings have been reported by other studies during the outbreak of other pandemic situations such as SARS, swine flu, and bird flu (Lewis 2020).

In the Bangladeshi context, there is a belief that work‐family responsibilities are primarily shaped by conventional gender norms (Gutek et al. 1991) because of the longer lasting and widely held stereotypical perceptions of males as “bread‐winners” and females as “home‐makers”. Thus, the socio‐cultural structure makes women less able to negotiate than men. Moreover, due to globalisation and increased women’s participation in paid work, work‐life balance (WLB) is no longer a western phenomenon. Although numerous studies have highlighted western and developed nations (Zhang et al. 2020), there is less focus on eastern and developing societies (Lewis 2020). Besides, studies during COVID‐19 have focused on dual‐earner couples’ work and care (Craig and Churchill 2020), work‐life conflict (Zhang et al. 2020), care burden of women (Power 2020), employee adjustment and well‐being (Carnevale and Hatak 2020), coping strategies of teachers (Maclntyre et al. 2020), and working from home (Phillips 2020). Other scholarship has reported that COVID‐19 imposes vital challenges for working women in terms of work‐life balance (Lewis 2020; Hamel and Salganicoff 2020; Roshgadol 2020), yet few studies have addressed working women’s perceptions about challenges and strategies they have encountered and employed during COVID‐19 to improve WLB. In Bangladesh, pre‐COVID‐19 topics included social support and WLB (Uddin et al. 2020a), family support and workplace support (Uddin et al. 2020b), and women’s strategies for work‐care balance (Hossain and Rokis 2016). Thus, filling this gap, this research contributes to the existing literature by identifying the challenges of finding WLB and by highlighting strategies to overcome such challenges. The findings may increase an understanding of working women’s behaviors in balancing roles.


Concept of WLB

WLB is defined as “an employee’s effort towards accomplishing both the work and life role successfully such that the roles of one domain do not have any adverse effect on the other” (Parkes and Langford 2008). The concept of WLB is also related to work flexibility that determines employees’ capacity to define where, when, and how to work (Cooke et al. 2009). WLB includes five elements such as working schedule, workplace environment, reward and incentive structure, workloads, and policies about leaves. However, the multiple roles, demands, and challenges that employees, and particularly working women, face often lead to role conflict (Nizam and Kam 2018).

Socio‐economic context of women in Bangladesh

Although the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh has given equal right to both women and men, the reality is farfetched. Women face widespread discrimination in their family and at work, harassment, rape, dependency on males, and they are often more vulnerable and physically weaker than males (Khan 2016; Uddin et al. 2020a, 2020b). Moreover, they also face problems related to food, work, education, decision‐making, property, and independence (Miaji 2010). The masculine social system of Bangladesh encourages a strict separation of work and restricts women’s movement, hence steering them towards accomplishing household chores. In the Gender Gap Index of 2017, Bangladesh was ranked in 47th position among 144 countries, whereas India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and Pakistan were ranked 108th, 109th, 111th, 124th, and 143rd, respectively. While some of the social indicators demonstrate that women’s empowerment in Bangladesh has risen, in many cases their conditions are still deplorable. Most women work as home makers without any remuneration and are denied the respect they deserve from their families and societies for their contributions to managing the home (Uddin et al. 2020a).

Although socio‐cultural traditions in Bangladesh stimulate women to be confined within their home, globalisation, increased female education and awareness, and structural changes influence them to join paid work and contribute to the socio‐economic development of the country (Asian Development Bank 2010). Yet, they still overwhelmingly have to accomplish family and household roles, which ultimately create enormous challenges to their well‐being.

COVID‐19 and women in Bangladesh

COVID‐19 has significantly influenced socio‐economic contexts of women in Bangladesh as 91.8 per cent of women are mainly engaged in the informal sector. Household owners and workers, employees in SMEs, daily workers, street vendors, and cleaners, among others, have quickly lost their means of living. Even in many formal sectors, huge job losses for women remains a major concern (UN Women 2020). Pre‐COVID‐19, women in Bangladesh on average used to accomplish 3.43 times more household chores than men (BBS Gender Statistics 2018). With the closing of educational institutions, all family members staying at home, working from home, and absorbing extra duties of continuous family care are all factors that have further intensified the burden on women during this time. Moreover, women invest more effort and time than ever before in providing emotional support, maintaining cleanliness, supporting adults, and caring for dependents. Poor representation of females in executive positions of…

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2021-03-23 23:45:56

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