Choice, constraints and the gender dynamics of labour markets


Project outline

The ESRC-funded research project "Choice, constraints and the gender dynamics of labour markets in Bangladesh" aims at understanding the low levels of female labour force participation and highly stratified occupational structures, which characterise the labour market in Bangladesh and in South Asia more generally. Empirical research suggests positive implications of women's labour force participation, which relate to health and wellbeing of family members as well as broader development goals, including economic growth and poverty reduction. This research uses quantitative survey data and qualitative data in order to carry out detailed empirical investigation into the interaction between individual choice and structural constraint, including cultural norms and values, which shape labour market outcomes in Bangladesh. Taking into account the constraints on women's labour market, the project will elaborate short-term and long-term policy recommendations.

Inception Workshop with Key Stakeholders organised by the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development, 30th April 2014.

Project Blog

This project began with a stakeholder workshop (see video above) where we invited representatives from government, civil society, the donor community and other academics. About 50 people attended and we have made a contact list to keep those who expressed interest informed as the project rolls out.

Now the project is underway, we will be posting here with project updates.

Notes from fieldwork Lopita Huq

Publications and links

Project-related publications

Mahmud, S. and Tasneem, S. (2011). The Under-reporting of Women‘s Economic Activity in Bangladesh: An Examination of Official Statistics. BDI Working Paper No 1, Dhaka: BDI.

Kabeer, N., S. Mahmud and S. Tasneem (September 2011) Does Paid Work Provide a Pathway to Women’s Empowerment? Empirical Findings from Bangladesh. IDS Working Paper, Volume 2011 Number 375.


Kabeer, N., R. Assaad, A. Darkwah, S. Mahmud, H. Sholkamy, S. Tasneem, D. Tsikata, and M. Sulaiman (2013). Paid work, women’s empowerment and inclusive growth. New York: UN Women

Kabeer, N. and L. Natali (2012). Gender Equality and Economic Growth: Is There a Win-Win? IDS Pathways Working Paper (mimeo). Institute of Development Studies, Brighton.

Kabeer, N. (2012). Women’s Economic Empowerment and Inclusive Growth: Labour Markets and Enterprise Development. Report for the United Kingdom Department for International Development and International Development Research Centre (Canada).

Kabeer, N. (2011). Contextualizing the Economic Pathways of Women’s Empowerment. Findings From a Multi-Country Research Programme. Pathways Policy Paper. Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton.

Kabeer, N. (2008). Paid Work, Women’s Empowerment and Gender Justice: Critical Pathways of Social Change. IDS Working Paper 3. Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton.

Van Anh, Tran Thi and Naila Kabeer (2000). Leaving the Rice Fields, But Not the Countryside: Gender, Livelihood Diversification and Pro-Poor Growth in Rural Viet Nam. Occasional Paper 13. UNRISD.

Whitehead, A. and N. Kabeer (2001). Living with uncertainty: gender, livelihoods and pro-poor growth in rural Sub-Saharan Africa. IDS Working Paper 134.

South Asia

Kabeer, N., K. Milward and R. Sudarshan (2013). Organising Women Workers in the Informal Economy. Gender & Development, 21:2, 249-263.

Kabeer, N. (2005). Is Microfinance a ‘Magic Bullet’ for Women’s Empowerment? Analysis of Findings from South Asia. Economic and Political Weekly, October 29, 2005.

Kabeer, N. (March 2004). Globalization, Labour Standards and Women’s Rights: Dilemmas of Collective (In)Action in an Interdependent World. Feminist Economics 10(1):3-35.

Research team


Professor Naila Kabeer is a feminist economist and obtained her PhD in Economics from the London School of Economics. She is the Principal Investigator for the ESRC research project on gender and labour markets. She is currently Professor of Gender and Development at the Gender Institute at the LSE. Her research interests include gender, poverty, social exclusion, labour markets and livelihoods, social protection and citizenship, issues on which she has widely published. Much of her research has focused on South and South East Asia. See website here:


Ms. Simeen Mahmud has an MA in Statistics from Dhaka University and an M.Sc in Demography from London University. She is the Bangladesh co-ordinator of the research project. She is Lead Researcher on Deepening Democracy at the BRAC Governance and Development Institute (BDI) and also co-ordinator of its Centre on Gender and Social Transformation. Her research interests include gender and labour markets, microfinance, the construction of citizen identity, education and collective action, mainly in Bangladesh.


Ms. Lopita Huq is an anthropologist. She has an MA in Political Studies from the Jawarhalal Nehru University, Dehli and an MA in Cultural Studies from the New School for Social Research, New York. She is a Research Fellow at the BRAC Governance and Development Institute. She will be organising the collection and analysis of the data for the project. Her main areas of experience include qualitative research on adolescents, marriage, dowry and recently, on  grassroots organizations, citizenship and rights. 


Ms. Kabita Chowdhury studied Islamic History and Culture. She is a research associate at the BRAC Governance and Development Institute (BDI). She will be working on the collection and analysis of the data for the project. Previously she worked at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), in collaboration with the Population Council and Save the Children. The focus of her research has been on family structure change in rural Bangladesh and adolescent girls. Recently she has been working on grassroots organizations, citizenship and rights.


Professor James Heintz is an economist based in the Economics Department of the University of Massachusets and the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI). He will lead on the econometric analysis for the project. His current work focuses on employment policy and poverty outcomes; economic policy choices and human rights; informal and atypical employment; macroeconomic policies for sub-Saharan Africa; and the links between economic policies and distributive outcomes, including race and gender dimensions.


Ms. Janna Miletzki, PhD candidate at the Department of Geography and the Environment at the LSE, is responsible for setting up of the project website and research administration during the early phase of the project. See profile here.

Advisory Committee


Martha Chen is a Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, an Affiliated Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and International Coordinator of the global research-policy-action network Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO). Her areas of specialization are employment, gender, and poverty with a focus on the working poor in the informal economy. Before joining Harvard in 1987, she had two decades of resident experience in Bangladesh working with BRAC and in India, where she served as field representative of Oxfam America for India and Bangladesh. She received a PhD in South Asia regional studies from the University of Pennsylvania in the USA.


Lucia Hanmer has been a Lead Economist in Gender and Development at the World Bank Group since 2013 where she works to identify and pursue frontier research topics and develop new knowledge products aimed at filling key data gaps and operationalizing gender equality throughout the World Bank Group's development portfolio. She served previously as senior economic adviser for the Economic Empowerment Section at UN Women and senior economic adviser in the Chief Economists Office at the UK's Department for International Development. She holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Cambridge.


David Kucera is a Senior Economist in the International Labour Organization’s Economic Policy Department. His research addresses gender dimensions of trade, structural transformation and informal employment, resulting in such co-authored journal articles as “Feminization, Defeminization and Structural Transformation in Manufacturing” and “Gender Segregation and Gender Bias in Manufacturing Trade Expansion.” He is an associate editor of the journal Feminist Economics and was previously Associate Director of the Center for Economic Policy Analysis in New York City. He received a PhD in Economics from the New School for Social Research.

News and events

Presentation on Choice, Constraints and Labour Market Dynamics in Bangladesh. Economic Research Forum: Gender and Labour Markets in the Middle East. October 2015.

Click here for the video

Culture, Economics and Women's Engagement with the Labor Market: Preliminary Findings from Bangladesh. Gender and Development Seminar, World Bank. March 2015.

Cick here for the video

Communities, norms and women’s work: findings from low income contexts

Chair: Naila Kabeer

  • Women's agricultural work and nutrition in Pakistan: findings from qualitative research Haris Gazdar, Mysbah Balagamwala, and Hussain Mallah
  • Estimating the benefits of bridging social capital amongst vulnerable women: Comparing outcomes for domestic workers and other unskilled female workers in South Africa Marisa von Fintel, Ronelle Burger, and Carina van der Watt
  • Cultural norms, economic imperatives and women's labour market behaviour: preliminary findings from Bangladesh Naila Kabeer
  • Ethnicity, autonomy and women’s work choices in Kenya Giovanna De Giusti and Uma Kambhampati
  • Promoting Gender Equality through Tourism Enterprises in Rural Uganda Brenda Boonabaana

Photos and videos

Forging ahead: images of changing gender relations in Bangladesh

Photo: Mamun Islam, Copyright: Centre for Gender and Social Transformation, BRAC Governance and Development Institute, Bangladesh

Collecting fodder for livestock in Chandina

Photo:Lopita Huq, Copyright: Centre for Gender and Social Transformation, BRAC Governance and Development Institute, Bangladesh

Working in the lemon grove, Srimangal

Photo: Lopita Huq, Copyright: Centre for Gender and Social Transformation, BRAC Governance and Development Institute, Bangladesh

Repairing boats in Bagerhat

Photo: Lopita Huq, Copyright: Centre for Gender and Social Transformation, BRAC Governance and Development Institute, Bangladesh

Women running grocery shop next to her house in Tangail

Photo: Lopita Huq, Copyright: Centre for Gender and Social Transformation, BRAC Governance and Development Institute, Bangladesh