Nuri (35) starts her day at 6 am throughout the week. After cleaning the home, making breakfast, and preparing tiffin for her husband and children, Nuri starts for office at 7:30 am. After returning from the office, she has to do chores like cooking, feeding the kids, serving food to family members, cleaning dishes, etc. She goes to sleep after 1 am. She never gets a single day for rest throughout the week. Inadequate sleep and the regular pressure of maintaining work-life balance are pushing her into depression.
Samira (28) commutes to the office every day by public transport. As her office does not provide any transport facility, it is a regular hassle to reach office on time, commuting through the overwhelming traffic jam of Dhaka city. While riding heavily congested public transport, Samira feels worried about physical molestation and harassment. She also feels insecure while returning home from work in the evening. These regular anxieties are hampering her performance at work.
Farin (25) works in a private company in Dhaka city. At her workplace, while protesting unwanted flirting and intimidation, she has been threatened by a senior male colleague. Though she got support from her female colleagues, the office management has more or less ignored the issue. As her company lacks an effective HR department, she didn't get the scope to file a formal complaint. Furthermore, she has faced judgmental comments from senior colleagues on her "choice of clothing". She has developed stress-related insomnia.
When Afrin (40) joined a marketing agency with a female boss, where close to 80% of the workforce are also women, she expected a safe environment. However, her professional growth has induced jealousy among some colleagues. Though she works hard and often goes the extra mile to achieve the sales targets, her male colleagues label her success as a product of "flattery and favoritism". She finds the environment demotivating.
Mahin (32) is a working mother with an 18-month-old son. As her office has no day-care facility for children, she finds no alternative but to leave her son with a relative or domestic worker during her office hours. Sometimes she feels stressed at work when her child is unwell. Though she looks after her son before and after work, her in-laws often talk about her "negligence" in maternal duties - directly and indirectly putting pressure on her to leave her job and stay home. The constant stress and disagreement at home are taking a toll on her mental health.
These scenarios are not uncommon for working women in Bangladesh. Women going through anxieties over maintaining a work-life imbalance should not ignore their mental and emotional well-being.
Why do women feel more stressed at work?
Common sources of work-related stress for Bangladeshi women include:
Sexual harassment: Many institutions and organizations lack strict policies against sexual harassment. Therefore, some people take advantage and tend to harass their female colleagues.
Intimidation: Some men consider themselves superior to female colleagues at work. They often tend to intimidate and dominate their female colleagues at the work, even though no involvement is required.
Unsafe work environment: Sometimes male colleagues tend to make vulgar insinuations to women colleagues. Though it is not direct harassment, women feel abused and insecure.
Prejudice: At work, many professional women go through judgemental attitudes from colleagues and office management for their choice of clothing, ways of living, marital status. Single mothers, and unmarried women are the worst victims of such prejudices.
Gender discrimination in pay: From entry-level to high positions, women working in different sectors of Bangladesh often experience discrimination in pay. It discourages many bright women from succeeding in their careers.
Professional jealousy: Many women professionals achieve rewards, increments, and promotions at work. However, in some cases, instead of getting encouragement from colleagues they have to go through taunts and negative comments. Such actions are demotivating.
Lack of strong female leadership: Attaining gender equality in the workplace is a challenge. However, there is a clear line between female empowerment and female leadership. In many workplaces, female professionals are leading the organizations, but the rights of all women in said organizations are not ensured.
Insecurity in transport: In Dhaka city, availability of public transport is quite inadequate compared to the population. Though the government has marked some seats for women in public buses, those are very scarce compared to the number of women commuters. Sometimes women experience pushing and physical molestation while on crowded public transport. Many working women cannot afford private transport in Bangladesh.
Work-life balance: In Bangladesh, women mainly have to carry out the domestic responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, and other chores at home. Generally, men get to relax after work. On the other hand, women bear the pressure of reaching home on time and doing the chores. Men rarely help in cooking, cleaning, or looking after children. Thus, working women are always racing to maintain the balance between work and home.
Child care: Working mothers often feel anxious about their children. In joint families, mothers can keep their young children with family members during office hours. However, nowadays, in Dhaka city, most single-unit families keep their children under the care of nearby relatives or helping hands. Many families cannot afford daycare. In many areas, daycare centers are not available even if the families want to bear the extra cost.
Defining workplace stress in women and its potential risk
"Women's workplace stress evolves from three common sources: judgemental comments and harassment by colleagues at the workplace; the pressure of proving eligibility and efficiency compared to male colleagues; pressure from family members to maintain work-life balance," according to Razia Sultana Rima, mental health counsellor of Shantibari.
Rima also said that if workplace stress is continuously ignored and left unaddressed, it can bring negative consequences to a woman's health. The burden of stress can lead to anxiety, which can result in depression and insomnia. These situations not only destroy the potential of a woman in her career but also harms her emotional health in the long term.
How can counselling help women cope with work-related stress?
Women suffering from stress hardly get the scope to share their problems. The fear of judgment and prejudice often prevents women to come forward. Therefore, women often tend to hide their anxieties from relatives and friends.
Some organizations in Bangladesh are working to support women suffering from anxiety due to workplace stress or work-life balance issues.
Shantibari: An approach to support working women
Shantibari, a Bangladesh organization for supporting women, started its journey in June 2022. It offers women counselling, therapy, and psychiatric treatment. Women suffering from workplace-related stress can avail counselling online or offline from Shantibari for an affordable fee.
To reduce workplace-related stress, psycho-social counsellors of Shantibari provide psychotherapy and services for mental health. They encourage women to invest time in positive activities like yoga, exercise, etc. Shantibari is open from 3 pm to 8 pm from Saturday to Thursday. On Friday, they run different useful sessions for women's well-being.
Kaan Pete Roi: Emotional support helpline
Kaan Pete Roi was founded in 2013. The goal of the helpline is to prevent suicide and advanced mental health issues. Kaan Pete Roi is run by trained volunteers. Women who are experiencing workplace-related stress can call the helpline from 3 pm to 3 am for receiving immediate emergency counselling.
Women Support Initiative Forum (WSIF)
Since 2018, this online platform has been providing mental and psychosocial services. This woman-led organization offers both personal support sessions and public awareness sessions. The psychologists and psychiatrists of WSIF can also help women to cope with the stress generated from work-life balance issues or workplace-related stress. One can call from 8 am to 11 pm to book an appointment.
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