The outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was first reported from Wuhan, China, and has spread to 188 countries globally at the end of May 2020. As of May 31, 2020, there are 6,255,136 confirmed cases globally, and 163,942 confirmed cases in Turkey.
COVID-19 is not only a health pandemic but also has huge economic and social consequences for women. As in previous crises, it is likely to exacerbate women’s already disadvantaged position in the labor market, increase the burden of unpaid domestic and care work, and lead to higher incidence of and less effective response to different forms of gender-based violence. The International Labor Organization (ILO) expects that 25 million jobs could be lost worldwide as a result of COVID-19 and women would be among the most vulnerable groups.
UN Women has been closely following the political and economic response to COVID-19 and how it is impacting women and girls, and cooperating with partners around the globe in using data to drive gendered responses to the COVID-19 crisis. Immediate, mid- and long-term response and recovery efforts need to be based on understanding of the different experiences and consequences of this crisis on women and men, and gender analysis-based national recovery strategies and plans. However, gender data and analysis are not systematically produced and used. In her book “Invisible Women”,
Caroline Criado Perez indicates that approximately 29 million articles were published in scientific journals regarding Ebola and Zika impact, and less than one percent of them were focusing on the influences of pandemics on gender.
In Turkey, UN Women commissioned a rapid gender assessment (RGA) to deliver a more accurate picture of the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis on women and men, to make their distinct and changing needs and priorities visible, and to inform gender-sensitive and effective decision-making and response. The assessment is based on a telephone-based survey among nationally representative sample of 1,500 men and women over the age of 15. The survey was carried out in the period April 18-25, corresponding to the peak week of the COVID-19 pandemic in Turkey in terms of daily average of incidence of deaths per week. It was carried out by the research company SAM Research and Consulting, Inc.. It inquiries into issues of source of information regarding the outbreak, change of employment situation and household resources, division of labor in the household, health issues and access to basic services, and experiences of discrimination and domestic violence.
The assessment was implemented with financial support by Sweden through Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).
Country Context at the Time of Survey The research took place during the peak of the pandemic and the results are expectedly influenced by the immediate steps taken by individuals, families, employers and the government in response to the pandemic, including the prevention and control measures to curb the spread of the disease that had been in place at that time. The following section describes some of these measures.
At the time of the field study of the survey, daily updates (non-sex disaggregated) on case numbers were provided by the Minister of Health and extensive information campaigns via conventional and social media has been held to raise awareness on the means of infection and protection from the disease. Also, free access to testing and treatment of COVID 19 has been introduced to all individuals (irrespective of their legal status) by a Presidential Decree in April 2020.
On April 3, the Ministry of Interior introduced restriction for entry, exit by land, air and sea in 30 metropolitan municipalities, including İstanbul, Ankara, İzmir and Gaziantep, as well as Zonguldak, for a duration of 15 days – which has been extended four times in April and May until it was lifted on 1st of June. A curfew for citizens under 20 years of age and 65 and over were introduced at the beginning of April 2020. On April 11, the Ministry of Interior introduced a 2-days curfew for all citizens over the weekend in 31 provinces, which was continued until May, 31.
Daycares and all other educational facilities from primary school to universities were closed on March 16, 2020 in Turkey to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and online education was started by March 23.
At the same time, the two most common non-parental arrangements for childcare at home — care provided by grandparents and by paid caregivers – became undesirable or impossible due to health concerns and the curfews for the individuals over 65 of age5 .
As early as the beginning of March, the government started regulating the import and export of face masks due to the overwhelming demand as well as price hikes in Turkey. Wearing masks in public spaces such as grocery stores, local markets and workplaces became compulsory on April 4, after which the Ministry of Health announced that 5 face masks will be delivered to citizens between the ages of 20 – 65 every week and free of charge through the Turkish postal system. This continued untilth May when the Ministry of Trade announced that face masks will be available for sale in markets, pharmacies and medical supply stores for a fixed price of 1 TRY.
As part of the economic measures taken against the COVID-19 crisis, on April 1st the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning postponed the collection of rent from public properties for a duration of 6 months. On the same day, the Central Bank announced a rediscount credit worth 60 billion TRY targeting goods and services importers to increase their access to finances and support employment.
On April 8, the Ministry of Treasury and Finance announced salaries of those who take unpaid leave will continue to be paid under a support package targeting small and medium-sized enterprises(SMEs).
The Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services announced the social support programme will be moving to its second phase where 2,3 million families will receive a 1,000 TRY cash payment. In the first phase of the social support programme, 2,1 million families received cash support.
Effective April 17, a three-month ban on layoffs was imposed to protect citizens without job security and to mitigate the effects of the crisis on the economy. It was announced that anyone who had been laid off or put on unpaid leave as of March 15 and is not eligible for unemployment benefits would receive a daily payment of 39.24 TRY by the government. The government would also pay 60% of the wages of employees working in businesses suffering from the outbreak.
On 21st of April, the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services announced that a total of 268,717 companies have filed applications for short-term employment allowance for 3.44 million workers to receive part of their salaries from the government after their working hours were cut due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ministry of Treasury and Finance also announced that, as of April 20, TL 10.8 billion had been allocated to tradespeople, while TL 59.6 billion has been handed to industrialists. A total of 501,450 firms have applied for the tradespeople support package, while the number of those who have received loans has reached 335,721.
COVID-19 increased the fragility of businesses, especially small businesses in certain sectors such as restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, performance and entertainment and sport services. According to Ministry of Interior data, around 149,382 enterprises have been closed due to COVID-19 measures in these sectors. It should be noted that those companies employ mostly low-paid and low-skilled staff.
These are also the sectors where women’s businesses are clustered, and women are mostly employed6 .