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Another glass ceiling

  • Published at 03:59 pm May 6th, 2020
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Survey shows that Covid-19 has gendered effects in Bangladesh

As face-to-face data collection has been rendered impossible due to lockdown measures associated with Covid-19, UN Women APRO has partnered with the private sector for the collection of evidence to inform policy and programming responses to the pandemic. In Bangladesh, UN Women partnered with Jazz Telecom to administer the survey on a random sample of 1.5 million users. The survey was first rolled out on April 12 2020.

As of 28 April, 2,350 responses were received, of which only 48 stated they never heard about Covid-19 and thus were not prompted to provide additional responses. Beside these, there was no further respondent drop-out. As weights were applied to correct for sex, age and education response bias, the estimates presented here are expected to be nationally representative. The only caveat is that the survey distribution method (SMS) entails a bias towards the more educated population, more likely to own and use smartphones. Therefore, it is expected that the results underestimate the gender gaps.

Women are more likely to rely on more accurate sources of information on Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic highlights the need for accurate information to prevent contagion. Misleading information, mainly reported over the internet, could potentially lead to a higher spread. Results from the survey show that in Bangladesh women are more likely to rely on sources of information such as radio, television, newspapers and official government websites, which are typically considered more accurate (Figure 1). Furthermore, responses indicate that a higher percentage of men (11%) than women (5%) does not know about Covid-19 (not shown). 

For this question, respondents could choose among nine different answer categories.  Figure 1 reports only the categories with highest frequencies. Other categories are not reported because the number of observations is negligible.

As women tend to play an important role in promoting hygiene routines within the household, their access to reliable sources of Covid-19 information is essential. Figure 2 shows that less women than men found the information they got clear and helpful to prepare for the pandemic (43%) and a significant group did not receive any information (29%).

The Covid-19 pandemic is affecting both women’s and men’s mental and emotional health, while women are experiencing more difficulties in accessing medical supplies

The Covid-19 pandemic is triggering a variety of shocks in women’s and men’s lives. Figure 3 shows that a total of 62% of women and 66% of men reported that their mental and emotional health has been affected. Moreover, women are more likely to face difficulties in accessing medical supply, hygiene products and food items (78%) and to experience longer wait time when they seek medical care (69%) (Figure 4). All these events might increase stress and affect emotional health.

Women are more likely to face challenges accessing health care during the Covid-19 crisis

Results from the survey underline that women are more likely to face challenges accessing health care. The large majority of women in Bangladesh are not covered by health insurance (97%) (Figure 5).

Informal workers are losing their jobs and formal workers are working less hours 

The spread of Covid-19 is not only a global health pandemic, it is also affecting people’s livelihoods substantially. In Asia-Pacific, where the majority of the population is engaged in informal employment (86% of the employed in Bangladesh, according to LFS 2015/2016), vulnerability is exacerbated by the lack of social protection. UN Women’s survey shows that women, in particular, are likelier to see their working hours reduced (83% of those in formal and 24% of those in informal employment). This is concerning as women were already more likely to report that they earn less than the partners (16%, not shown) or have no earnings (37%, not shown).

Job losses are also an emerging concern among informal workers. This phenomenon is affecting both women (25%) and men (27%).

The graph shows estimates only for the employed population. Formal employment includes employees that are contractually covered by pension schemes and health insurance as well as registered self-employed. Informal employment includes employees not covered by pension schemes and health insurance, unregistered self-employees, contributing family worker and the “other” sub- group that reported not being covered by a health insurance.

As a result of Covid-19, household resources are dwindling for everyone, but there are gender differentials

The decrease in household resources is affecting both women and men, but not equally. For instance, more women than men noted drops in income from the family business not in agriculture (45%), properties, investment and savings (30%), financial support from family and friends (25%), self-produced food (23%), income from paid jobs (31%), and income from farming or fishing (36%).

This graph depicts the proportion of people that responded “Increased” or “Decreased” to the question on whether these resources changed. The other two response categories (not shown here) include “remained unchanged” and “not a household resource”.

Unpaid domestic work is the most time-consuming activity for women, detracting from time spent with children

Lockdowns and social distancing have resulted in sharp increases in domestic and care work needs within the household. Despite both men and women being at home, a re-distribution of unpaid domestic and care work between women and men is not obvious from the data. Figure 8 shows that the most time- consuming activities for women are cooking (28%) and cleaning (24%), whereas shopping for the family is the most time-consuming task for men (22%). These results are in-line with those shown in Bangladesh’s LFS (2015/2016), demonstrating little to no shift in re-distribution of domestic work as a result of the confinement.

Fetching water has been included among these tasks although it doesn’t qualify as unpaid domestic and care work according to international statistical classifications.

Single individuals (identified through our analysis as unmarried/widowed/divorced female living in households with children) are particularly sensitive to the burden of both unpaid domestic work. In comparison to couples that are married or cohabitating, a significantly higher proproption of female, single individuals report that the most time-consuming activity is cleaning or cooking (Figure 9).

Covid-19 has increased the burden of unpaid domestic and childcare work for everyone, especially for mothers or female caretakers

Data from UN Women’s survey shows that unpaid domestic and care work is increasing for both men and women. Women are however more likely than men to report increases in the provision of unpaid domestic work and unpaid care work for adults. On the contrary, since Covid-19, men tend to report an increase in time spent providing unpaid childcare (e.g. playing with children) (Figure 10).

Men are helping more, but discriminatory social norms still leave women in charge of most chores

Discriminatory  social  norms are a major source of  persisting gender inequalities, including within the household, where women are expected to help more.  As a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, about half of the women in Bangladesh report that their partners help them more with household chores and caring for the family (Figure 11). However, almost two thirds of the males reported an increase of such help from their partners. Furthermore, both women and men report that daughters help more in comparison to sons.

Socio-demographic profile of the sample

The  following are the socio-demographic characteristics of the weighted sample. The UN Population Prospects are also included for comparison purposes.


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