Working Paper
The COVID-19 pandemic and poor women’s agency

A case of domestic workers in Delhi

Studies on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated that poor women have been the worst sufferers in terms of pay cuts and job losses.

Women are the hardest hit also at the household level. They have to bear the brunt of constrained household budgets and have also encountered increasing levels of domestic violence during the long and uncertain spells of pandemic-induced lockdowns and restrictions when men stayed home for much longer periods of time than usual.

This paper on the gender impact of the pandemic and the consequent lockdowns and curfews in the city of Delhi, India, seeks to explore whether women who have achieved some agency from their work gain a stronger capacity for intra-household bargaining and are less likely to face household-level discrimination.

We also try to understand whether the extent, severity, and nature of discrimination within the household may change if women have better chances, than men, to retain or get back their jobs.

Analytically, we draw on Amartya Sen’s (1987) discussion on cooperative conflicts and on discussions of agency. Empirically, we rely on 31 interviews with women domestic workers, conducted in-person in Delhi.