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Exploring the Livelihoods of Women Refugees in Turkey: A Qualitative Study on the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) Applicants (A Remote Focus Group Discussion Report)



In the Focus Group Discussion (FGD) series conducted under the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) programme, this study aimed at exploring the understanding of refugee women under temporary and international protection about participating in the labour market, the opportunities available for them, and the challenges faced from the perspectives of the ESSN applicants. The study is based on ten remote FGDs conducted in September 2020 with 35 ineligible and 24 eligible women from five provinces, namely Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Gaziantep, and Hatay. Data collection was undertaken by the Turkish Red Crescent (TRC), adhering to the COVID-19 measures and in a way that minimized physical contact. Participants were able to access group discussions via mobile devices provided by the field teams. Data analysis was done jointly by the TRC and IFRC Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) teams and supported with a desk-based literature review. The key findings and main recommendations of this report are presented below.


• According to the participants, women refugees often work in blue-collar jobs, such as in textile and food industries, and they also work as house cleaner. The available job opportunities for them are irregular and limited. When education levels and employment status were considered, it is found that the employed participants had low levels of education, but the ones with higher education levels were not employed. Generally, the educational attainment of women participants was mainly at the primary education level or below, reflecting the limited skills that women had before entering the labour market. Marriage, child baring duties, cultural norms coupled with limited skills and work experiences restrict many refugee women from participating in the labour market. These factors combined potentially translate into unwillingness among some women to seek employment or participate in income-generating activities.

• Improved Turkish language skills were generally thought to increase the likelihood of women accessing employment opportunities. Knowing the language would also help improve their knowledge about work rights such as social security insurance or work permits and placing them in a better position to seek these rights from their employers.
While most participants believed that the inability to speak Turkish was a deterrent factor for women to find jobs, there were also others who thought that work experience and skills are more of a determinant. Although some refugee women thought that there are jobs in the market that do not necessarily require proficiency in Turkish, they often considered these not suitable for women (long working hours and low pay or necessity to travel long distances).
A few participants also thought that knowledge of Turkish would help them attain sustainable and qualified jobs.

• Only a few women participated in technical and vocational education and training and found relevant work in the field of training upon completion. A few had applied to participate in language training and did not hear back from the organizers, or others have not heard about available training opportunities at all. Reasons for not participating in programmes were given as the long distance to the training center, unavailability of the types of courses preferable to women, childbearing duties, looking after the needy or missing the application dates.

• Gender norms play a distinct role in keeping women out of the labour force. Discussions highlight that husbands are often against refugee women’s employment; they do not allow them to work outside of the home or together with other men. Refugee women also find working hours in Turkey too long and state they cannot care for their children if they worked. Other aspects highlighted include the insufficiency or inequality of the payor employer’s preference for younger people where older age becomes a hurdle. For the more educated, both refugee men and women, the challenge was identified as validation of their education level and getting certification. Only one participant claimed that her Turkish skills improved through worklife. Other participants stated that most people spoke Arabic in the sectors they work in, and they faced no communication problem as there is always someone who knows Turkish when needed.