Gender Sensitive Policies During Covid-19: Turkey Case


Throughout this study, instead of the common way of crisis management as more focused on structural or material factors, the feminist alternative approach to crisis management during the COVID-19 process -can only be achieved by adding “gender-sensitive policies” the agenda- will be defended generally.  In this way, first of all, it will be explained what gender-sensitive policies are, then the studies regarding the issue in the literature will be presented, and the policies implemented to be gender-sensitive in Turkey during COVID-19 will be re-evaluated in terms of gender sensitivity. In the end, it is concluded that as well as gender-sensitive policies in Turkey remain a minority as a quantity, they are also found weak in terms of implementation and quality. In the light of the information obtained from the literature, the study will be finalized by emphasizing that; design, implementation, and monitoring processes are essential steps separately in the process of gender-sensitive policy-making that constitute the whole of the policy at the end.

Key Words: feminism, gender-sensitive policy, gender, COVID-19, policy-making, crisis management.

1. Introduction

The COVID-19 outbreak, which began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and quickly turned into a global epidemic within a few months, has caused a global crisis that is felt all over the world with its devastating consequences in political, economic, and societal terms, beyond its effects on public health. As the duration and spread of the pandemic, which is still ongoing as of 2021, governments’ strategies and policies in this sense continue to be vital for lives and livelihoods. In the process of combating the COVID-19 crisis, each country has followed very different strategies and policies. However, the common attitude they have in those different agendas; on the one hand, each state has tried to implement policies aimed at slowing the pace of the epidemic by spreading it over time as a way that is not destroying the health system, on the other hand, tried to ensure the continuity of the public services and main sectors in the economy. While doing all these and tackling with COVID-19, governments also have a responsibility to be “gender-sensitive” in the policy-making process (UN, 2020).

2. Explanation of Research Related Terms

2.1 Gender-Sensitive Policy

Gender-sensitive policies are policies that consider the different social roles of men and women and are therefore designed to meet the diverse needs that will arise due to these various social roles. Gender blindness, or gender-blind policies, is defined as the opposite of gender-sensitive policies as policies that disregard socially determined gender roles, responsibilities, and abilities of men and women. Figure 1 shows how Kabeer’s framework,  three types of gender-sensitive policies are defined in his study: gender-neutral, gender-specific, and gender-based distribution. Gender-neutral policies are not policies aimed at men or women particularly, and it is assumed to affect both equally. A gender-neutral policy is usually made to achieve specific goals, separated from gender. Gender-specific policies recognize the neglected gender, that is, women’s gender-related needs since the past, and advocates policies define particular strategies for them. The goal of gender redistributive policies is, on the other hand, to rebalance the power structure to create a more balanced relationship between men and women (Kabeer,1994) (Samet and Yoon, 2010, p.194-195).

Figure 1. Adapted from Samet and Yoon (2011) Gender, women, and the tobacco epidemic.

Regarding the gender-sensitive policy-making during the COVID-19 period, the UN Global Gender Response Tracker, launched by UNDP in September 2020, to measure whether all the measures taken by countries in this period are gender-sensitive or not. As can be seen in Figure 2, UNDP has examined three crucial criteria determining the gender sensitivity of a policy as “unpaid care,” “domestic violence,” or” economic security of women” (2020).  New data on COVID-19 reveal that only one in eight countries in the world takes measures to protect women against social and economic impacts (UN Women, 2020).

Figure 2. Structure of the global COVID-19 gender response database, UNDP COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker, 2020.

3. Literature Review

Considering that the COVID-19 pandemic is still a global crisis waiting to be resolved, few studies are related to gender-sensitive policy-making processes. For this reason, throughout this study, Profeta’s (2020), Bilal and Ahairwe’s (2020), Ryan and Ayadi’s (2020) works are found relevant to the research subject. Combined from these three different studies, the areas as “education,” “health,” “female representation,” “labor market,” “unpaid care,” “domestic violence” are examined one by one in the light of gender-sensitive policy-making. What will be done differently in this study is to evaluate the public policy of Turkey during COVID-19 in the light of a gendered perspective within a theoretical discussion in the light of Branicki’s study, which emphasizes “care” based feminist ethics rather than rational, militaristic, masculine or utilitarian logic of dealing with a crisis.

3.1. Critical Domains For Gender-Sensitive Policy Making

Both Bilal and Ahairwe’s (2020), Profeta’s (2020), and Ryan and Ayadi’s (2020)’s studies agree that the COVID-19 crisis has deepened the gender inequalities that already exist, especially in developing countries. A vulnerable group that is mainly affected by this crisis is undoubtedly women, but they all explained it with different focused areas.

3.1.1. Education

Ryan and Ayadi’s (2020) work suggests a gender-responsive “intersectional” approach to tackling COVID-19 rather than focusing on specific areas. It is necessary to make sure that distance education reaches girls as much as boys because their schools may be strained because of their unpaid care work as well as responsibilities (p.7). While Bilal and Ahairwe’s (2020) work proposes different options that can be adapted to support a gender-sensitive economic recovery, particularly during and post-COVID period, they also emphasize that education of girls should be re-oriented for support by development finance institutions’ operations such as the World Bank gender strategy plan 2016-2023 (p.16). At the same time, it is thought that the fact that most of the educators, i.e., those working in the education sector, are women, will put them at great risk when schools are opened (Profeta, 2020, p.3).

3.1.2. Health

Women compose 2/3 of the healthcare workforce worldwide, including 85% of nurses and midwives, and it is indicated that this percentage makes up 90% of long-term workers in OECD countries as of 2020. And particularly for the pandemic, women comprise 70% of the healthy and social workers at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19, which makes them very important for this process (Ahairwe and Bilal, 2020, p.9).  As the demand for health workers increases with the outbreak, although the risk of unemployment is lower, women in these sectors are highly vulnerable to contracting the COVID-19 (Profeta, 2020, p.3) World Health Assembly’s May 2020 meeting is very crucial to remember that at that meeting governments are called to prepare a gender-responsive national action plan for frontline health workers for the protection of social, financial and human rights and prevention of violence at the workplace with the collaboration with World Health Organization (Ryan and Ayadi, 2020, p.7).

3.1.3.  Female Political Representation

Although 70% of those working in the Health and social sectors are women, only 25% of national legislative authorities are women (UN Women, 2020). Greater inclusion of womens’ diverse experiences, perspectives, abilities, and predictions in the policy-making process can lead to more informed, fair decisions being made (UN Report, 2020, p.2). Ryan and Ayadi emphasize that it is essential to ensure gender equality in working groups of COVID-19 and to open a  place for different groups, particularly women, in leadership positions to promote gender-based decision-making (2020, p.7). The UN also call all of the council members in parliaments all around the world to monitor all drafted policies during COVID-19 in these senses; (i) whether gender experts are included in the drafting, (ii) whether the protection/service systems implemented with the most up-to-date statistical data on violence against women; (iii) sensitivity of stimulus packages and budgets (UN 2020).

3.1.4.  Labor Market

As mentioned, working women in the education and health sector are more vulnerable to the risk of contagion; above this, Profeta notes how the COVID-19 crisis turn into a job crisis and how it is still heavily affecting women (2020, p.2-3). Profeta points out that women are less connected to the labor market, and those vulnerable workers (those with lower skills or lower wages) are more unemployed during the COVID period. (2020, p.3). Ahairwe and Bilal add that with quarantine or other preventive measures, it largely ceased operations in the service sectors, including tourism, restaurants, hotels, schools, kindergartens, which mostly employ women and lost their jobs or temporarily laid off (2020, p.10). Profeta also emphasizes the importance of job retention and income support policies, which are prepared by determining vulnerable people’s needs in the labor market properly (2020, p.6).

3.1.5. Unpaid Care

According to Bilal and Ahairwe’s study, if all unpaid care works are valued at the minimum wage, they probably cost around USD 10.8 trillion annually (2020, p.4), and women perform that unpaid care works three times more than men, according to OECD data women spend 2 hours more than men to do that kind of works (Ryan and Ayadi, 2020, p. 3). Research conducted in many countries such as Spain and Italy, which Profeta presented in her study, shows that periods of distance work/learning and lockdown during the COVID-19 process caused an increased amount of work, mostly welcomed by women. In this sense, policy implications are expected to be supportive for work-balance and family needs as implemented in some countries, like additional permission for parental leave (for both parents) or baby sitter vouchers. Also, policies for both the labor market and unpaid care should be monitored moment to moment for successful implementation; otherwise, it may even expand rather than support the gender gap (Profeta, 2020, p.6-7).

3.1.6. Domestic Violence

Women and girls are also exposed to gender-based violence at home over long-term lockdowns. “Innovation” in these areas is suggested instead of continuing existing support services, as preventing gender-based violence, in the COVID-19 era may require a more difficult and critical process than usual (Ryand and Ayadi, 2020, p.5-6) because lockdowns and curfews may result in overexposure to the perpetrator as different than usual. Bilal and Ahairwe’s (2020) work which deals more with the economic-gendered recovery of the COVID-19 side, also calls for development finance institutions to finance women’s rights and states to work together by tackling domestic or gendered violence with special financial packages for the economic security of survivors (2020, p.19).

3.2  Theoretical Perspective To Crisis Management and Gender-Sensitive Policy Making

Branicki presents a theoretical view with her study in the sense that how gender-sensitive policies contribute to deeper way of dealing with a crisis. Because the normal way of crisis management is more associated with rational and utilitarian logic with masculine and militarist language (2020, p. 872). Branicki describes “rational crisis management” as calculating, anticipating utility, discrete and limited, and also agentic and vulnerable as a view to people but on the other hand, describes feminist crisis management as relational, based on ethics of care any time, quality in ethics and care (2020, p. 880). Countable measurements on a large scale do not indicate that a crisis is well handled; rather, good handling can be achieved by understanding “care-based” concerns in society – with a normative, alternative, and feminist understanding of this crisis process- therefore, in COVID-19 crisis “material” and “ethical” concerns should be thought together (p. 873).

4. Methodology

For the data collection method, qualitative and quantitative data are collected from various sources like newspapers, articles in the literature related to the research area as secondary data, UN (UNDP, UN Women), OECD, World Health Organization archives as primary data, etc.  In terms of data analysis, both the quantitative method analysis and qualitative method analysis were used, quantitative data analysis method was more used while evaluating gender-sensitive policies on the basis of various areas like education, labor market, etc. and analyzing Turkey case with the help of UN Gender Response Tracker (2020). The qualitative analysis method has been used more to present the feminist and alternative crisis management or policy-making process logic.

Figure 3. UNDP COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker, Number of measures taken by Turkey.

5. Analysis: Turkey Case

According to UNDP Global Gender Response, Tracker 7 out of 28, namely %25 of whole policies of Turkey during the COVID-19 period, are found as “gender-sensitive.” (2020). However, does any policy put forward also indicate that it was subsequently well-monitored and successfully implemented?

Figure 4. UNDP COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker, showing policy details for Turkey in the category of “gender-sensitive.”

5.1. Existing Policies During COVID-19 Period in Turkey

To go through existing policies as shown in Figure 2, policies on violence against women, which constitute five out of seven gender-sensitive policies, are examined; it can be argued that these policies, which seem to be well designed in theory, are very weak in practice. As Profeta states in his study, all gender-sensitive policies implemented are critical enough to widen rather than narrow the gender gap unless it is well followed and implemented.

5.1.1. Violence Against Women

To start with very first critic, The Alo 183 Line, established under the Ministry of Family and Social Policies, was put into operation in 2012 with the law numbered 6284, it is not a line newly created as special for the COVID-19 period, and also it is not served for violence against women alone but for other social benefits as well. So the fact that there is not a single line dealing with violence against women alone may cause women to lose their only chance when they call that line, so many NGOs demand that the ALO 183 line be turned into such a special line (DW, 2020). A second criticism is about the number of women’s shelters -allegedly being increased- a shortage of women’s shelters leads victimized women to seek help from NGOs such as We Will End Femicide Platform or Purple Roof in Turkey (DW, 2020). There has also been a lot of criticism from both the NGOs and the victimized women regarding the quality of shelters and legal and psychological assistance there. According to the news of the BBC, the only problem in shelters is not the lack of capacity; women also say that they have been subjected to psychological repression, thereby the employees as if they were criminals (2019). At the same time, the Turkish government is heavily criticized for not providing any financial package so far to victims of gender-based violence in general (DW, 2020). As Ryan and Ayadi have mentioned, the COVID-19 era requires new and innovative implementations beyond the existing system to combat violence against women. General Representative of We Will End Femicide Platform, Gülsüm Kav gives an example of a very well implemented policy in France during COVID-19 as; victims of violence in France can go to the pharmacy closest to their homes and report the situation there upon transmission from pharmacy staff to security forces. If the perpetrator is with the victim she or he can use some passwords such as “mask-19” (Milliyet, 2012) (Sözcü, 2020). For the case of Turkey, based on the examples given, it can be clearly argued that no innovation has appeared in this sense.

5.1.2. Labor Market

When the policy made on the labor market is analyzed, it is seen that women are provided with loan support, and there is no direct financial aid, job retention, or income support as specifically targeting them. On the other hand, in December 2020, the Turkish government decided that within the scope of the tradesmen support package, 1000 TL aid and 750 TL in metropolitan cities, and 500 TL in other provinces will be provided with rental assistance. Those businesses subject to the simple procedure will be provided with monthly support of 1000 TL for three months (Hürriyet, 2020).  For social protection, a Figure 4 shows, not forgetting post-natal and pregnancy situations during the Covid-19 period and providing financial support to these people can be considered as a positive step in gender sensitivity.

5.2. Non-Existing Policies During COVID-19 Period in Turkey

5.2.1 Unpaid Care

As can be seen in Figure 2 on related to unpaid care, there does not seem any kind of political initiative, neither parental leave, child payment benefit nor additional financial assistance, nor babysitting. The importance of such practices can also be exemplified by several tragic events in Turkey in the last few months, especially how vital to provide child payment benefit or parental leave for working parents. In September 2020, in Konya, a 1.5-year-old baby fell from a balcony while the teacher couple was giving the online lecture at the same time (Sözcü, 2020).

5.2.2. Education

At the same time, another issue neglected in the gender-sensitive policy-making of the COVID-19 era seems to be Education in Turkey. According to data released by Turkey Statistical Institute (TUİK); no internet access in around 3 million households in Turkey. Turkey computer access rates in the upper socio-economic areas’ students are almost 90%, while this rate falls to 40% in lower socio-economic areas. Participation in online classes conducted via distance learning program (EBA) remained around 15-20 %  in many schools; 60% of the students seem not even to access EBA (Evrensel, 2020). Access to the internet and computer also seems to be straining families financially. Çınar Mert, a primary school student in Istanbul, died after falling from a roof to access the EBA. The father said: “We had been dealing with the EBA for days and it cost our child his life. We had barely bought a new computer for him, our financial situation was not enough to improve the quality of the internet” (Birgün, 2020). As Ryan and Ayadi have also touched upon in their study, governments are responsible for making sure that education reaches almost every part of society – both boys and girls, the most vulnerable groups.

According to Assoc. Dr. Berna Ekal, although there is no clear data on the reflection of this situation on gender, based on the previous Ministry of Education (MEB) data, the enrollment rates of girls in pre-school and secondary education are less than boys. Therefore, it can be said that problems such as absenteeism and dropping out of school during the pandemic have a risk to affect the enrollment rates of girls, especially in secondary education (Evrensel, 2020). At the same time, a recent UNHCR report says that refugee children’s education is also of great danger, especially in countries with large refugee populations like Turkey; it is also stated that female refugee children are in a more vulnerable position (UNHCR, 2020). Turkey does not seem to have attempted any gender-sensitive or gender-neutral policies on this issue, neither for its citizens nor for the right of education for refugees of 4.5 million inhabitants.

 5.2.3. Health

Another important issue over nonexistent policies is the lack of policies to protect health care workers’ financial and physical well-being. First of all, about the violence towards health workers in Turkey, Bilgin and Özcan’s study has discovered that women are more likely to be exposed to verbal violence, men are more likely to be exposed to physical violence, and nurses are in the riskiest position in terms of exposure to both verbal and physical violence (2011, p.1454-6). An incident in Ankara Keçiören in September 2020 can be given as an example to show the tragic level of this violence. On September 21, health workers were attacked by relatives of a patient at a hospital in Keçiören, Ankara, to protect themselves and their patients from violence by barricading the doors themselves (DuvarEnglish, 2020). In only November 2020, 31 people totally who are working in different branches of the health sector were subjected to violence. The report, published by the Health and Social Service Workers Union (Sağlık-Sen), says violence continues to be a problem even during the COVID-19 period (DailySabah, 2020). In this sense, it is quite clear that vulnerable groups, both men and women employees, need an effective and deterrent policy design for their occupational safety and physical well-being.

6. Conclusion

Since December 2019, COVID-19, which has created a global crisis effect in the world, has also caused an economic and social crisis in society, as well as its severe effects on public health. Naturally, eyes are also turned to states to deal with the long-and short-term consequences of this huge crisis. Throughout this study, in the process of COVID-19, a “care” focused feminist alternative approach aims at long-term recovery together with a rational or utilitarian logic is defended generally.

In this sense, with the example of Turkey, Turkey’s gender-sensitive policies were seen to be a minority within all COVID-19 measures. In addition to the lack of quantity of policies, existing gender-sensitive policies are also found not to have been successfully implemented during COVID-19 as quality (violence against women). ın addition, lack of policy initiatives in some critical domains mentioned throughout the literature, have been identified (education, health). From the case of Turkey, it can be concluded that gender-sensitive policy-making is a profoundly need-oriented process, it is critical and important to follow up the design, implementation, and monitoring processes separately.

Hicran EROL

Toplumsal Cinsiyet Staj Programı


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