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COVID-19 is good for businesswomen
You may have spent the day like any other, but the Thursday before last, November 19, was a special time of the year – it was women’s entrepreneurship day (WED). The United Nations has organized meetings on this day since 2014 to discuss the state of women who launch their own businesses. Perusing this year’s output of research, I was surprised to see information indicating that COVID-19 has not been bad for women in Turkey. Let me elaborate.
COVID-19 is not only a health hazard, but for many, also an economic disaster. Vulnerable groups are still hard-hit by total or partial lockdowns, women included. 19 percent of women lost their jobs compared to 14 percent of men according to UN Women. 89 percent of women reported increased time spent on unpaid domestic work, while only 69 percent of men report the same. Besides cultural reasons, this might partially be due to more women switching to remote work (18 percent) than men (14 percent).
There are also surveys on how COVID-19 is negatively impacting women-owned SMEs in Turkey: 76 percent of these businesses can’t move inventory due to decreased demand, and 36 percent are anxious about reduced productivity. 34 percent are losing face-to-face customers to digital trade.
One figure more than any other really changed my Outlook. Only 9.2 percent of all businesses in Turkey are owned by women, (In the United States, that figure is 35.1 percent, 27,9 percent in the UK and 25,7 percent in Germany and 25,5 percent in France) while that figure rises of 25 percent when looking at e-trade platforms. This is also true when you look at the share of women-owned businesses among total sellers using domestic secure payments systems.
All that indicates that digitalization is good for women entrepreneurs in Turkey. Is this cultural? Does it mean that development agencies, like the EBRD, IFC, WB, ADB, all of which think about fostering women entrepreneurship, need to rethink their strategies? Up until now, they seem to be targeting women entrepreneurs directly. I now tend to think that a more indirect approach supporting interfaces to foster digitalization, like e-trade platforms, delivery services, and e-payment systems, might have a bigger impact.
Turkey is now an aging society, with more people above the age of 65 than those below the age of 5. Here is an area where Turkey is converging with Europe rapidly. This older population needs more women to start working, and yes, more of the elderly to continue working, in order to contain the decline in the share of the working population. Here, electronic trade and remote working provides an important contribution.
For all the destruction it has wrought on the economy, COVID-19 is also accelerating some very interesting trends in Turkey. Now that the country is trying to correct its course towards sound economic, social and political policies, it is time to rethink the demographic realities of the economy, including gender balance. None of this will be smooth. A course correction of this scale will be messy by definition, I’m afraid. Still, as we prepare for the other side of this pandemic, we must open the way for new ways of doing business.