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What do gender data reveal about the economic struggles of women in Bangladesh?

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Young Bangladeshi women being trained at the Savar Export Processing Zone training center in Dhaka, Bangladesh on October 13, 2016. Photo: © Dominic Chavez/World Bank
Young Bangladeshi women being trained at the Savar Export Processing Zone training center in Dhaka, Bangladesh on October 13, 2016. Photo: © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

Economic gender-disaggregated data reveals inequalities between women and men, helping us to get a clearer picture of the challenges and disadvantages that women face at work. Therefore, accurate and timely collection of this data is crucial for comprehending gender disparities and crafting effective policies.

With support from the World Bank’s Strengthening Gender Statistics (SGS) project and the National Strategy for Development of Statistics (NSDS) Implementation Support Project, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) recently released a detailed report based on the Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) 2022 data. This report, aligning with international standards and recommendations of the United Nations Statistics Division, marks a significant milestone with its extensive discussion on economic gender indicators.

Bangladeshi women face many challenges at work, and here, we'll discuss three of them:

Challenge #1: Women face higher unemployment than men

According to the HIES 2022 data, Bangladeshi women are less likely than men to participate in the labor force (42.5% vs. 81.3%). They are also significantly more likely than men to be unemployed (5.9% vs. 2.8%). 

However, gender gaps vary depending on location: women in urban settings face higher unemployment rates (9.6%) compared to women in rural areas (4.7%) as well as men in urban (3.8%) and rural settings (2.4%). Young women aged 15 through 24 experience the highest unemployment rate at 16.5%, double that of men in the same age group. Unemployment rates among disabled individuals show minimal gender differences (Figure 1). 

Figure 1. Unemployment rate among individuals ages 15+ by gender, place of residence, age group and disability status, 2022 (%)


High female unemployment results from various intersecting factors, worsened by the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath. During the pandemic, women were disproportionately affected, often losing jobs, and remaining unemployed post-lockdown, as highlighted in the Bangladesh Country Gender Assessment 2021. This scenario is worsened by structural barriers that contribute to women’s unemployment, including gender discrimination, job access constraints, occupational segregation, heavy domestic and caregiving duties, limited networking opportunities, entrenched social norms, and inadequate supportive policies and infrastructure. 

Challenge #2: Women lag behind men in terms of equal pay for work of equal value

The wage gap between men and women remains, favoring men. On average, men earn 35.8% more per hour than women. In certain sectors like agriculture, this gap widens to 57.2%. Women earn less than men across all age groups, with women over 65 facing the most significant disparity—their earnings are about 70% lower than men of the same age

Figure 2. Average gross hourly earnings of female and male employees (Bangladeshi taka (BDT) and USD), 2022

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What leads to the gender pay gap in Bangladesh? Occupational segregation is a major factor, pushing women into lower-paying sectors and jobs. Additionally, gender discrimination in hiring holds women back from accessing better employment opportunities (Bangladesh Jobs Diagnostic Report 2017). The underrepresentation of women in decision-making roles also slows progress toward equal pay policies.

Moreover, women have limited access to financial resources, impacting their ability to start businesses or pursue further education and training. According to HIES 2022, only 22.3% of women have a bank account compared to 34.5% of men.

Challenge #3: Women struggle to secure full-time, high-quality employment

In Bangladesh, both men and women face challenges accessing better-quality full-time jobs, with most of them being concentrated in the informal economy and self-employment. However, women appear to be more disadvantaged than men: according to HIES 2022, men spend an average of 2 hours more per day on paid work compared to women: 8.7 hours versus 6.7 hours, respectively.

Women are also more likely to work part-time, with 35.4% of female employees working part-time compared to 28.7% of males. This disparity is particularly high in agriculture, where almost eight out of ten women are part-time workers, compared to around five out of ten men.

Figure 3. Proportion of part-time workers (worked less than 40 hours per week, 15+, in total and agricultural employment) by gender, 2022 (%)

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Women spending fewer hours on paid work compared to men has negative effects on their earnings and economic stability. Gender gaps in paid work time and part-time employment suggest that women face barriers in accessing better job opportunities than men. Patriarchal social norms, which restrict women's mobility and expect them to handle household and caregiving duties primarily, are significant factors hindering their access to full-time employment opportunities (Bangladesh Systematic Country Diagnostic 2021).

What’s next?

Gathering and sharing high-quality gender-specific data is crucial not only for understanding these gaps better, but also to design policies to effectively address them, benefiting the Bangladeshi economy and society at large. Research indicates that closing gender gaps in the economy can lead to significant macroeconomic benefits, including economic growth and poverty reduction. Therefore, having high-quality and timely gender-specific data is a crucial starting point. 

To that end, the SGS project plans to deepen its collaboration with the BBS, support monitoring of the 8th Five-Year Plan and contribute to the draft National Strategy for Statistics Development 2024-2030. The SGS project will also review opportunities to enhance gender data in the upcoming World Bank Bangladesh Statistical Capacity Building operation.  




Anna Tabitha Bonfert

Data Scientist, Gender Group

Alina Kalle

Project Coordinator, Strengthening Gender Statistics (SGS) project, World Bank

Heather Moylan

Senior Economist, Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS), World Bank

Miriam Muller

Senior Social Scientist with the Poverty Global Practice at the World Bank

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