As urbanisation changes the face of poverty in Bangladesh, endemic insecurities within the urban environment force low-income households to deploy new strategies of labour mobilisation that challenge traditional patriarchal ideologies, and in the process, change gender dynamics. While the majority of men hold on to patriarchal beliefs – viewing the mobilisation of female labour as a ‘necessary evil’ dampening household honour and prestige and threatening masculinity – women are aware of the importance of their work and the centrality of their contributions to income. These opposing perspectives generate tensions within the household, leaving women to face a complex balance between managing the household, their jobs and the marital relationship. Research in Dhaka bustees highlights that although the mobilisation of female labour plays a stronger role in facilitating household security rather than advancement, where household heads display progressive views on female employment prospects for household improvement are harnessed. For the remaining majority of households, however, a wife’s additional labour is often followed by a reduction in several negative behaviours of the household head – including reducing working hours and income contributions or taking a second wife – resulting in tensions and quarrels between husband and wife. A paradox is visible, in which men are acutely aware on these negative tendencies of men – using it as an additional argument not to send their wives to work – but do not associate this with their resulting marital problems, instead blaming wives for their ‘disobedience’. This may be one reason for the persistence of patriarchal social norms that frown upon sending married women to work at the same time it has become widely acceptable to send young, unmarried daughters – who will not challenge the household head’s actions and authority – to work in Bangladesh’s thriving export-oriented garments sector.
Banks, N. Female employment in Dhaka, Bangladesh : participation, perceptions and pressures. Environment and urbanization (2013) 25 (1)