Migration, livelihood and Gender based violence: A triple case-study of young female migrants in Dhaka

Runa Laila, Hosna Jahan Shewly, Nasrin Siraj Annie, Tuli Mrong, Lorraine Nencel, Ellen Bal, Kathinka Sinha Kerkhoff


Over the past two decades, Bangladesh has experienced a rapid transformation in terms of rural-urban labour migration of young female. Young Female Migrants (YFMs) old social networks and social capital no long offer forms of protection in their new urban living arrangements. In this context, this paper addresses the experiences of gender based violence among three groups of highly vulnerable YFMs in Dhaka: i) garment workers, ii) Garo beauty parlour workers, and iii) hotel and residence based sex workers.


This is a multimethod research, including ethnography, Participatory action research and interview,  conducted by a multi-national group of researchers in partnership with a Dutch University, local NGO’s and a  Bangladeshi university between March 2016-September 2018.


Women’s experience of GBV can be summarized in the following interrelated themes:

  • Physical violence: Female Sex workers (FSWs) are physically abused, beaten and raped by their clients, police, mastans and neighborhood people. Garment workers (GWs) experienced intentional use of physical force (pushing, grabbing on their neck, pulling on ears and slapping on their face by their male supervisors, when women made mistakes or showed ‘disobedience’.
  • Domestic violence by the partners of FSWs was high. Because of stigma and patriarchy, FSWs are denied justice even if they are killed, police generally deny taking any case. Among Garo parlour workers (GPWs), their drunken husband and father did not take care of the households and put the entire household burden on women. GWs conform to coerced sexual inter-course with their husbands to prevent them from going to “bad women” or marrying another wife.
  • Sexual violence: In some home based parlors GPWs experienced sexual misconduct and adultery by male owners. Due to sexual double standard sexual violence in the garment factories remain unreported to protect the reputation of women. FSWs are often raped, hijacked, and sexually assaulted on the way to their home at night.
  • Psychological violence: GWs sense of self-esteem and dignity were severely damaged due to yelling, verbal insult, name-calling and threat of being fired if unable to fulfil their ‘targets’. GPWs encounter violence in the form of racist and sexualized comments on their way to, as well as, inside their workplaces. FSWs are constantly under pressure and try to hide their sex worker identity. Due to the fear of being caught, they hide their Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) related complicacies and diseases.
  • Economic violence: Mastans and police often confiscate sex workers income. GWs access to resources (i.e. maternal leave, maternal benefit) was denied in various degrees in different factories. Pregnancy becomes a stressful event leading to complicated deliveries which affect women economically. Pregnant parlour workers usually worked as long as they could and took care of themselves privately, accept big-parlours. While in the parlor Garo women work as low paid service providers, they are being discriminated during promotions in the Garment factories.


There are specific ways GBV manifest among different groups of women.  Various forms of GBV are rooted in gender and power inequalities that exist in various institutions in the society- family, culture, economy, work place and political structure.

At the family level prescriptive feminine persona as dependent, passive and submissive, made women silent victim of domestic violence and coerced sexual intercourse. FSWs, accept violent partner to keep their ‘good women’ identity. The precariousness of sexual rights among Garos prevent them reject any sexual intercourse from their ‘lover’, ‘boy-friend’ or ‘fiancé’, who tend to enjoy full sexual freedom in the society.

At workplace women’s experience of unwanted sexual comments or sexual harassment by male co-workers, were due to their gender and power hierarchy. Due to prescriptive notion of female sexuality, FSWs are being socially stigmatized as ‘fallen women’, justifying structural violence by mastans and police.


GBV needs to be addressed from basic human rights perspective. Efforts to reduce GBV require long term intervention at all levels of the society.  It implies addressing the immediate needs of different groups of women, to promote long term social and cultural transformation towards gender equality. It needs including the voices of marginal Garo beauty parlour workers, sex workers and garment workers in the public discourses and provision of SRH care services without discrimination.    

Download the presentation.

To know more about the research, contact:

Runa Laila
Fellow, Social and Cultural Anthropology Department, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Cell 0031627091561 (NL)
008801712717494 (BD)

Leave a Reply