Technology is a Balancing Element Against Gender Inequality

The Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey (KAGIDER) President Ms. Emine Erdem said that technological developments are a major factor in supporting women’s employment and entrepreneurship, as well as balancing gender equality in the business world.

Pointing out that the pandemic brought many difficulties for female employees and entrepreneurs, KAGIDER President Ms. Emine Erdem said that their report titled “Women Entrepreneurs in the Pandemic” provides a comprehensive overview of the challenges posed by the pandemic and that urgent solution plans should be put into effect.

Emphasizing that they act to strengthen the place of women in the economy, social life and politics, Ms. Erdem stated that they continue to work in the pandemic and produce projects for women in line with this mission. President Erdem, who expressed that they concentrate on activities that will support the existence and representation of women in trade, technology, agriculture and social life, stated that they are trying to create a more inclusive platform with the power of digitalization.

Drawing attention to the fact that technology opened a new veil in terms of women’s employment and entrepreneurship, Ms. Erdem emphasized that technological innovations are also a major factor in balancing gender equality in the business world.

Could you briefly describe your association’s member and employee profile on a global scale?

The Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey (KAGIDER) was founded by 37 women entrepreneurs in September 2002 and has been working with the aim of popularizing women’s entrepreneurship, empowering women in the economy, social life and politics and ensuring gender equality for 19 years.

Today, we are a non-governmental organization that gathers nearly 400 members from 46 different sectors under a single roof, representing women in many different platforms at regional, national and international levels, creating a turnover of 62 billion dollars and employment for 250 thousand people. The KAGIDER office team consists of six women.

What kind of road map did KAGIDER choose for 2021? How do you reach women and women entrepreneurs in the face of the pandemic that has been going on since last year?

During the pandemic, we focused on studies that will support the presence and representation of women in trade, technology, agriculture and social life, especially in 4T. We provide the necessary mentoring support for women entrepreneurs to manage the pandemic crisis we are facing, and we create digital platforms where we can share our experiences and learn from each other.

We have many projects aiming to enable more women to win public tenders, to prepare young women for business life, to increase their use of technology, to improve their trade and export connections and networks, to facilitate their access to the market, to support their products in the agricultural sector, and to provide equality of opportunity in companies. In our contacts with the public, we do our best to be the voice of women entrepreneurs, to increase the steps that can be taken for women’s entrepreneurship and women’s employment, especially the support that can be given in this difficult period.

How do you see entrepreneurship in Turkey in general, how do Turkey’s business life, social and demographic structure and culture affect it? What is the place of women in entrepreneurship in Turkey? How did the pandemic affect this process?

When KAGIDER was founded 19 years ago, the rate of women entrepreneurs in our country was 4 percent. Today, it is 13 percent. I do not need to be modest; I should state that our contribution to this increase is significant. 2 percent of this 13 percent shows the increase in the pandemic. Yes, the pandemic has had heavy effects on women entrepreneurs, but it has also caused women who want to contribute to their household income to turn towards entrepreneurship.

70 percent of women entrepreneurs work in operational jobs in areas such as retail, health, consultancy, education and security.

When KAGIDER was founded 19 years ago, the rate of women entrepreneurs in our country was 4 percent. Today, it is 13 percent

During this period, we prepared a report titled “Women Entrepreneurs in the Pandemic” in cooperation with IPSOS. This report contains a lot of striking data. 76 percent of the women entrepreneurs participating in the study state that they experienced difficulties in the epidemic. While 68 percent of the participants reported that their business volumes decreased, the rate of those who lost more than half of their business volumes was 28 percent. 56 percent stated that they got into debt during this period. These are very serious rates that will determine our future, the future of our economy.

While 57 percent of the participants used commercial loans, 35 percent used personal loans, 30 percent stated that they borrowed money from their families. For entrepreneurs with a turnover of less than 50 thousand TL, the rate of borrowing from the family has increased to 51 percent. 55 percent of women entrepreneurs stated that they had to close their companies for a temporary period and in 2020, many companies stated that their business volume decreased and their turnover decreased.

It was stated that 35 percent of the companies were affected by the restriction decisions made by the government to fight the pandemic and 43 percent of them were partially affected.

Women entrepreneurs think that support policies should be implemented in order to start growing again after the pandemic. The most anticipated top five supports were listed as providing interest-free long-term loans (25 percent), preparing special support packages for businesses with a loss of 30 percent or more in turnover (17 percent), reducing the corporate tax rate (15 percent), reducing VAT rates (13 percent), not charging the employer SSI share until the end of the year (12 percent).

Again, an important conclusion from the report was that the daily lives of women entrepreneurs got more difficult during the pandemic. 31 percent of the entrepreneurs stated that they had an intense sense of anxiety because of the thoughts that their families would be infected, their investments would be wasted, debts could not be paid and the workplace would be closed. 13 percent of the participants expressed their feelings as fatigue and 12 percent as boredom.

On the other hand, it is said that the remote working system that settled in our lives with the pandemic can have a positive effect on women’s employment and creativity and can reduce pressure and mobbing. Do you agree with this? On the other hand, working from home has become more difficult for women who deal with household chores and more women have started to leave their jobs. What kind of an improvement will the regulations of the public and companies make at this point?

With the transition to the telework system, the work carried out by many female employees has doubled or tripled. They have taken the burden of the company work, along with housework and child and elderly care. The pandemic, the closure of schools and the increasing care needs of the elderly who stay at home have increased the burden of many women who have started working remotely on domestic work and care labor. According to the data of the United Nations, during the pandemic, women have to spend three times more time on household and care work than men.

Our “Women Entrepreneurs in the Pandemic” report shows that the daily lives of women entrepreneurs have got more difficult during the pandemic. During this period, the time spent by 6 out of 10 women on housework, cooking and child care has increased while the time spent by 5 out of 10 women spent on work has increased, as well.

Besides, 99 percent of the women who participated in the study titled “The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on female employees” prepared by Assoc. Dr. Emel Memiş, in which 339 companies of different scales participated, stated that they suffered from increasing responsibility for housework and care whereas 97 percent of them listed the workload increased due to remote working, 95 percent listed anxiety, psychological stress and feelings of burnout, and 89 percent increased domestic violence as top priority issues. In addition, 76 percent of the companies that participated in this study stated that they took measures to reduce the stress of the employees and support their general well-being while only 26 percent of the companies stated that they took special measures for female employees.

What is the contribution of women to the start-up ecosystem and economy in developing countries?

Women’s contribution to the economy should be encouraged at every opportunity, their economic gains must be preserved and developed. As women’s economic strength increases, their social and political position will also strengthen.

The contribution of women to the economy and the role they will play in the new world that will emerge is of indispensable importance. Because the contribution of women in the economy makes countries reach the welfare level faster. Ensuring the participation of women in employment should no longer be a matter of principle for countries but rather a matter of development and prosperity.

Reports and researches say that the digital world offers great opportunities for women, and even women are more advantageous at this point. What do you think about this? How much share do you think this advantage offers for Turkey?

That’s right, digitalization and remote working are good news for women. Because technology has become a more equalizing factor for women against gender inequality in the business world. In this regard, I would like to remind all women entrepreneurs that they should not neglect to invest in digitalization and digital channels and that they should manage their cash flows very carefully.

Therefore, practices that support women’s adaptation to digitalization and encourage them to use technology more are important. It is also important to protect the flexible and remote working conditions implemented during the pandemic by the business world in the new period, to re-employ unregistered, part-time or seasonal-working women under better conditions, and to support gender equality in the economy.

The Cooperation of Private Sector, Public And NGO is Important for Increasing Women’s Entrepreneurship

We have recently signed a project called “We Carry for Women” with DFDS Business Unit Mediterranean, a company of DFDS operating in Turkey. With this project, we offer significant support to women exporters.

“We Carry for Women” will provide significant support to women exporters in this challenging environment affected by the global pandemic. Within the scope of our project, which is of great importance in terms of women’s increased participation in economic life and gender equality as well as democratic development, transportation support will be given to 50 women entrepreneurs for a year to facilitate their entry into foreign Trade and to increase their competitiveness in global markets.

With this collaboration with DFDS, we aim to support the businesses of women entrepreneurs and increase the number of women entrepreneurs in exports. We strongly believe in the necessity of private sector, public and civil society cooperation for change. In this sense, we have implemented an exemplary project.

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