Helping Bangladeshi Women Rebuild After Disaster - 2011

August 2011

Image0137Floods added to women’s heavy work burdens as they had to clear and clean, take care of their families under difficult circumstances and, rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

Bangladesh is among the countries most prone to natural disasters such as floods and cyclones. In 2007, two major floods and a cyclone battered Bangladesh, with 51 districts affected and over 25 million people displaced. As floodwaters subsided, immediate rehabilitation requirements became clear – people needed food, medicine, and shelter. Roads and other infrastructure were also heavily damaged and needed to be rebuilt. The floods severely impacted the poor. Since many poor households are concentrated on low-lying areas and embankments, they were the first to get flooded, and problems with drainage and sewerage left inhabitants struggling through stagnant and contaminated water. The floods also added to women’s already heavy work burdens as they had to clear and clean, take care of their families under difficult circumstances and, rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

Jobs for Women in Reconstruction Work

After any disaster, the massive task begins of rebuilding damaged infrastructure such as roads, rural and municipal infrastructure, water supply and sanitation facilities. Reconstruction and rehabilitation works after disasters generate significant employment opportunities. The GDCF subcomponent was designed to promote and ensure poor women in the affected areas, especially those who had lost homes and livelihoods also benefited from reconstruction and rehabilitation activities under the ADB-financed Emergency Disaster Rehabilitation (Sector) Project.

The subproject aimed to address gender-specific needs in the restoration of livelihoods and activities during disaster rehabilitation through providing women access to jobs and incomes;  building the capacity of executing agencies to address critical gender issues such as equitable access to employment opportunities, wage disparity, work place safety, security and special needs, core labor standards and; gender-sensitization of construction contractors who were ultimately responsible for recruitment of laborers and their working conditions.

Giving Women an Equal Chance

IMGP3403Training and awareness raising workshops were conducted to promote gender-mainstreaming.

Training and awareness raising workshops were conducted with construction contractors and staff from executing and implementing agencies to promote and ensure women were also given access to employment opportunities in reconstruction related activities.  Capacity building activities were conducted for project staff, executive engineers, sub-divisional engineers, construction contractors, sectional officers, work assistants and labor leaders in water management, roads and highways, rural and municipal infrastructure sectors. The training workshops were aimed to be eye-openers on (i) the need to give “women an equal chance” in accessing employment created through disaster and damage rehabilitation works; (ii) support livelihood opportunities for women:  (iii) enhance construction contractors   understanding of gender issues and core labor standards and highlight ways to make the workplace safer and more appealing to women.

Following the workshops and training, approximately 20% of jobs created were allocated to poor women. In the subproject areas, poor women working in reconstruction activities are mainly engaged in earth work, drain excavation, road construction and maintenance, tree plantation and material collection, screening and washing.

Women and work in Bangladesh

  • Women’s economic opportunities in Bangladesh continue to be limited by factors, such as limited employment opportunities in the labor market, limited access to market-relevant training, high illiteracy levels, and heavy household work burdens due to inadequate basic services.
  • Women’s work tends to be in the low-wage end of formal employment and informal sector activity.
  • Women's participation in the informal sector is disproportionately higher than in the formal sector.
  • Gender gap in earnings is significant.
  • In the informal labor market, although women work 75 percent more hours per week than their male counterparts, they received only about three fifths of the wage paid to male contract/day laborers.

Recognizing that jobs alone are insufficient, the training also included the need to ensure equal wages for work of equal value; adhering to core labor standards and making the workplace safer for women laborers. Orientation training on gender and core labor standards was provided to both construction contractors and executing/implementing agencies. Following the training, many contractors adopted pre-conditions for subcontractors to actively recruit women laborers and to pay them equal wages for equal work.

Since the training and orientation sessions were done in partnership with the executing agencies, it helped to build ownership of the activities and initiatives. Contractors requested similar orientations to be organized for the field level staff to help sensitize all construction contractors, government agencies, labor leaders and the local community. Although the subproject is now completed, additional training and orientation on gender is planned for the Roads and Highways Department.

Addressing Wage Disparity

Wage discrimination has long been a problem for women in Bangladesh. Women's wages are typically lower than that of their male counterparts. Following the awareness building workshop with construction contractors and the executing agencies, in many areas women’s wages increased from only 50%of the equivalent male wage to 80-90% of male wages.

Contractors were also made aware of the need for more timely payment of wages and to ensure sustaining workers motivation.

Ensuring Women's Safety at Work

Sub-contractors reported that the geographical location of project sites from the workers' place of residence often prevents many women from joining the workforce because of concerns over security and safety. 

Following the training and orientation sessions, construction contractors were made aware of their responsibilities with regard to health and safety issues especially the need to provide drinking water supply, separate sanitation facilities for women and men, separate shaded rest areas, safety gear, safer working environment for women and no night shifts for women unless employers provide security to ensure their safety, or provision of safe transportation to and from home to the work place. They were also alerted to core labor standards related to child labor.

Image0147Reconstruction and rehabilitation work after disasters generate jobs.

During the orientation sessions, the importance of providing a safe working environment for women was emphasized, with key recommendations provided to contractors. The subproject recommended that contractors provide safe shaded areas near the work site to double as a day care facility for young children of female laborers. A low cost temporary but secured accommodation for groups of women laborers to stay with their children in case of long distance work was also suggested. While there is still a need for many male laborers to change their mindset regarding women's rights, continued gender awareness training was suggested to sensitize male workers on sexual harassment issues to ensure a more women-friendly workplace.

Monitoring Gender Standards

A Gender Reporting Process for construction contractors was developed for monitoring and evaluation to enable executing agencies to identify gender-based indicators for monitoring of sex-disaggregated employment of laborers and disbursement of wages. A Gender-Specific Reporting Format was developed, modified and finalized during the orientation session that is now being used for field data entry by the construction contractors based on labor engagement. The data is verified by field level project staff and forwarded to the headquarters of the Emergency Disaster Damage Rehabilitation Project for incorporation into the monthly progress reports.

Image0253Providing a safe working environment for women was emphasized to contractors.

A training manual and handouts on core labor standards were translated into Bangla and provided to the participants. These training manuals will continue to help executing and implementing agencies to follow the project gender action plans and monitor gender performance, especially in relation to female employment, wages and adherence to core labor standards.

In line with the subproject's goal to improve the capacity of the executing agencies to address gender-based needs in disaster damage rehabilitation, the training materials will serve as a valuable resource for usein future disaster rehabilitation programs.

Outcomes of the Subproject

  • Construction contractors and staff from implementing agencies trained on Mainstreaming Gender and Core Labor Standards;
  • Poor women secured 20% of jobs generated in reconstruction and damage rehabilitation.
  • In many areas women laborers wages increased from only 50% to 80-90% of male wages. 
  • Promoting adherence  core labor standards, including: health and safety issues (drinking water supply, separate sanitation facilitates for women and men, no wage discrimination (timely payment, equal wage for work of equal value, considering safe working place (no night shift for women);
  • Developed a Gender Reporting Process for field data entry by construction contractors based on labor engagement and other relevant information (for monitoring and evaluation)


  • GDCF Seventh Progress Report 2010.
  • Final Report on Gender Mainstreaming in Disaster Damage Rehabilitation. Dhaka, June 2010. Begum Shamsun Nahar, Gender and Development Consultant.
  • Project Completion Report: Gender Mainstreaming in Disaster Damage Rehabilitation
  • GDCF Fund Proposal: Mainstreaming in Disaster Damage Rehabilitation
  • ADB Country Gender Assessment: Bangladesh 
  • ADB Country Briefing Paper – Women in Bangladesh.
  • Photographs by Begum Shamsun Nahar, Gender and Development Consultant, ADB.