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Impacts of COVID-19 on Women’s Domestic and Professional Engagements

Assoc. Prof. Ayşe Aylin Bayar, Prof. Öner Günçavdı, Prof. Haluk Levent

As COVID-19 pandemic hits global economy, vulnerable groups in the society also carry the burden of this outbreak. In this policy paper, Assoc. Prof. Bayar, Prof. Günçavdı and Prof. Levent examine the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on working and domestic life of women in Turkey and propose policy options.

The purpose of this study is to measure the risks that women, who constitute the most vulnerable part of our society, are exposed to as a result of the pandemic and to make policy suggestions to eliminate these risks. It is possible to summarize the most important structural differences in the employment of men and women that we obtained from our research as follows:

  • In the classification made according to income groups, it is determined that women in employment are more common among households in low-income groups. Women are employed in the agricultural sector at a much higher number than men, this is followed by education and health services. In terms of their job status, it is observed that women work as unpaid family workers at a much higher number than men. The fact that women’s employment is concentrated in agriculture plays a role in this outcome.

  • The female labor force participation rate is lower than that of men. It is apparent that the most important reason for this is home and care work, and there is a serious inequality in sharing the workload within the household.

  • It is possible for women to participate in the labor force even after the age of 30 due to prior responsibilities of home and care work. On the other hand, men's participation in the workforce is not observed in this age group.

  • According to income groups, the median (average) income of women is 15 percent lower in wage income and 60 percent lower in entrepreneurial income than men.

  • It is also understood that women's employment is much more widespread in regions such as Istanbul, Aegean and Mediterranean where the urban population is intense.

Assuming that the outbreak will affect the income earned by individuals, a number of scenarios have been created and the risks of employment and income losses are estimated separately for both men and women if these scenarios occur. Accordingly, it was observed that women would be exposed to less risk of income loss than men. 35 percent of the working female population and 50 percent of the male face the possibility of exposure to this risk.

However, the female population contains much more important vulnerabilities in itself. Women working in home and care services consist of the leading group in terms of vulnerabilities among the female population. The source of the fragility of these women is their dependence on other members of the household in income. The pandemic poses the risk of losing these incomes, making it difficult for the women and other members of the households. Corresponding to a population of around 16 million and 52.9 percent of women working in households are exposed to the risk of loss of income caused by the pandemic because of the incomes they depend on.

Another important group in terms of vulnerability is women who are not in employment and dealing with home-care services in poor households. According to 2016 data, 51.3 percent of the population, whose individual equivalent income exceeds 7983.4 TL, consists of women. More than 50 percent of these women are employed in agriculture as unpaid family workers. Among these women, 37.8 percent of 2.2 million women who are dependent on someone else's income are illiterate. 54.3 percent of them are exposed to the risk of loss of income caused by the epidemic in terms of the income they depend on. In almost half of the households that these women belong to, one person works, and in these households, which are much more crowded in terms of people living in the household, the number of individuals that the loss of income will affect exceeds 2.5 million. According to our calculations, the total amount of income these households face with the risk of losing corresponds to 91 million dollars.

The source of inequalities faced by women in our country is largely structural and can be resolved through long-term measures. However, removing short-term effects resulting from the outbreak requires reducing the financial burden of households in the agriculture sector. Then, it is possible by giving direct support to the households that have lost their income. In addition, employment guarantees to be provided in general will minimize the risk of losing income in these and similar households. A more institutional solution is the establishment of a basic income application that will cover the entire population, provide assurance to the income flows of the households in need in this type of pandemic situation, and ensure the elimination of disruptions in expenditures.

(The report is available only in Turkish.)