A new icddr,b study has documented that families with low socioeconomic status–and particularly women –experienced financial hardship, food insecurity, domestic violence, and mental health challenges during the Covid-19 stay-at-home, or lockdown, measures in Bangladesh.
Scientists at icddr,b and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Australia have documented the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated stay-at-home measures on the wellbeing of women and their families in rural Bangladesh.
The study found that low socioeconomic families experienced a range of economic and mental health challenges during the two-month stay-at-home order, and women reported an increase in intimate partner violence, a press release issued by the icddr,b on Wednesday said.
Like many countries around the world, Bangladesh used lockdown orders to prevent the spread of Covid-19 from late March to May this year.
Using an existing research network in Bangladesh, the study team was able to track the impact of the lockdown on financial stability, food security, mental health, and domestic violence for 2,424 families in Rupganj, Bhulta and Golakandail unions of Rupganj upazila under Narayanganj district.
The study revealed that 96 percent of families had experienced a reduction in their average monthly earnings and 91 percent considered themselves to be financially unstable.
Indeed, during the lockdown, 47 percent of families saw their earnings drop below the international poverty line of Tk160 ($1.90) per person per day, and 70 percent experienced food insecurity; with 15 percent running out of food, going hungry or missing meals.
The lockdown also had mental health impacts, with women showing an increase in depressive symptoms and 68 percent of participants reporting that their anxiety level had increased.
It is of concern that among the women who reported emotional, physical or sexual violence from their intimate partners, more than half reported that violence had increased since lockdown.
Dr Jena Derakhshani Hamadani, emeritus scientist at the Maternal and Child Health Division at the icddr,b and principal investigator of the study, said, "The aim of the study was to determine the immediate impact of Covid-19 stay-at-home orders on women and their families in rural Bangladesh. The findings will not only help the decisionmakers of Bangladesh but other developing countries of the world to take successful pro-poor and pro-women measures if stay-at-home orders are to be re-imposed."
"The marked increase in severe food insecurity in our study population shows the impact of economic pressure on food access. It also supports modelling to suggest the pandemic could have a catastrophic effect on food security and consequently on nutrition worldwide," she added.
Speaking about the impact of the lockdown, Dr Sant-Rayn Pasricha, associate professor at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute–who is also a co-author of the article published on Wednesday in the Lancet Global Health–said, "Comparing how families were faring before and during lockdown, we could determine the impact lockdown had on them. What we observed were substantial financial and mental health pressures during lockdown."
The study also highlights the need for wide-reaching welfare and other forms of financial support for families impacted by lockdown measures, not only for those on low incomes.
Crucially, social support is needed to protect women's safety and it is essential that intervention services against domestic violence remain accessible during lockdown.
The research was funded by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and was conducted in partnership with the Doherty Institute and Monash University, Australia.