Understanding the aspirations of ultra-poor women in Bangladesh can enhance wellbeing and target development efforts


  • Lynn McIntyre University of Calgary
  • Krista Rondeau University of Calgary


wellbeing, well-being, capability approach, Bangladesh, ultra-poor women, whole person development


Much development research is focused on deprivations as well as contextual factors that limit individuals’ freedoms and choices to lead the lives they value; however, less attention is paid to “the ends” or “the good life” and how these can inform development efforts. This paper examines the aspirations of 43 ultra-poor female heads of household living in urban and rural Bangladesh within the context of wellbeing, i.e., the lives they value, in order to better understand how they could be assisted through development efforts. All women in our study articulated conceptions of personal wellbeing that were linked to their children and with the aim of conducting themselves as good mothers and honourable women. Physical and emotional hardship and the sacrifice of personal aspirations, happiness, nutrition, and health were required to establish children, who might in turn care for them in their old age; still, achieving these modest goals was difficult and resulted in constant worry or “tension.” Given the life these women value, social programs and policies that aim to support ultra-poor women who have children must consider how they can provide assistance that will benefit women directly without asking them to withhold assistance from their children.


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Author Biographies

Lynn McIntyre, University of Calgary

Professor and CIHR Chair in Gender and Health, Department of Community Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary

Krista Rondeau, University of Calgary

Research Associate, Department of Community Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine