Across Europe and Central Asia, women confront economic impacts of the pandemic

Date: Monday, June 1, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an economic crisis of epic proportions – with women and girls getting hard-hit. Beforehand, women already earned and saved less than men, were the majority of single-parent households and held more insecure jobs in the informal economy or service sector, with less access to social protection. The International Labour Organization (ILO) predicts 25 million jobs could be lost as a result of the pandemic, with women particularly susceptible to lay-offs and job cuts.

As part of its response, UN Women has conducted gender rapid assessments in 16 countries[1] with startling economic impacts already coming in from Ukraine. UN Women is training and encouraging girls and young women across Bosnia and Herzegovina to pursue ICT and STEM while pre-pandemic training on digital skills has helped rural women in Turkey to remotely maintain an income amid the COVID-19 lockdown. In Tajikistan, a UN Women-trained business run by women with HIV is supplying key protective gear for the COVID-19 response, while trained farmers in helping neighbours and increasing women workers’ salaries. Meanwhile, Albanian women’s groups are calling for female-targeted COVID-19 support schemes and UN Women partner organizations in Serbia are urging decision-makers to protect devastated women farmers while others deliver food to alleviate the economic impacts that have left many beneficiaries unemployed.

Rapid gender assessment of COVID-19 in Ukraine shows women more likely to fear economic impacts and do more domestic work

Rapid gender assessment Ukraine

Between 28 March and 7 April 2020, UN Women conducted an online survey of 3,310 women and 528 men respondents across Ukraine, the results of which suggest deep economic impacts.

Overall, 81.8 per cent of women predict they will have to save on food, 77.4 per cent said they were likely to have difficulty paying for rent and utilities, and 76.8 per cent expect challenges in buying food and other essentials. Men also raised concerns but were less likely than women to say they might save on food (72.3 per cent), or have difficulty paying for rent or utilities (65.5 per cent) or covering basic expenses (70.3 per cent).

Quarantine has also increased the burden of unpaid domestic and care work, which rests primarily on women. In particular, 63.5 per cent of women respondents reported spending more time on cleaning, 50.5 per cent on cooking; whereas among men, only 44.1 per cent reported spending more time on cleaning and 27.8 per cent were spending more time cooking.

Read the full story here.

UN Women trains girls across Bosnia and Herzegovina on ICT and STEM

Photo courtesy of Zerina Mandžo
Photo courtesy of Zerina Mandžo

UN Women’s IT Girls initiative focuses on increasing girls’ and women’s participation in the ICT sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina, through skills development, mentorship, economic empowerment and confidence-boosting. Adapting to the COVID-19 crisis, IT Girls took its work online, organizing a series of free webinars on a range of topics for girls and young women, whose regular education has been interrupted by the crisis.

Twelve free webinars have been hosted so far, which were streamed live on Facebook and generated over 20,000 views on Facebook with communities all over the country tuning in. Over 250 people, majority women and girls, actively participated and learned about topics such as graphic design, robotics, project management and cyberbullying.

“At the end of the day, the messages we received from girls who were inspired by our webinars to pursue careers in STEM, are the best indicators of our success,” says Zerina Mandžo, IT Girls Project Officer for UN Women Bosnia and Herzegovina. “Our aim is to expand our influence on local IT companies and support them in recruiting and retaining more women, as well as to support female entrepreneurship in IT. We know that access to technology is not the same throughout the country, so we will keep working to reduce this gap through online trainings and school initiatives, and to make sure that no girl is left behind.” 

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Digital skills help Turkish women maintain an income amid COVID-19  

Berivan Atilgan lives in Şanlıurfa with her husband and three children. Photo: UN Women Tayfun Dalkılıç
Berivan Atilgan lives in Şanlıurfa with her husband and three children. Photo: UN Women Tayfun Dalkılıç

From behind her phone screen, Berivan Atilgan smiles as she receives another order. Atilgan’s hand-crafted toys, baby blankets and baby socks used to be an important added source of income for her family. Now, they are the only source of income. Her husband, who used to be a seasonal agricultural worker, cannot work due to COVID-19 measures.

Atilgan is among the 2,800 Syrian and Turkish women who enhanced their digital skills and employability through coding, computer literacy and Internet marketing training, offered from early 2019 March 2020, at Multi-Purpose Community Centres. The Centres are supported under a UN Women project funded by the Government of Japan.

“After the digital skills training course, I started to use [Instagram] differently, to promote my handicrafts. If I didn’t have any digital skills, I couldn’t have continued my sales, which brings the only income we currently have as a family. I market on Instagram and receive online orders from all over Turkey.”

Read the full story here.

In Tajikistan, women living with HIV supply key protective gear

Due to the high demand for COVID-19 protection masks, Mammadova managed to fill orders to supply more than 23,000 masks within 10 days.
Due to the high demand for COVID-19 protection masks, Mammadova managed to fill orders to supply more than 23,000 masks within 10 days.

When Mammadova* signed up for aliving with HIV in Tajikistan last year, she had a small sewing workshop. Her proposal was one of four approved for funding, which allowed her to expand production and provide new jobs for 10 women living with HIV in her rural hometown.

“UN Women support is especially important and timely during such difficult and uncertain times,” she says. Amid the high demand for COVID-19 protection masks, Mammadova managed to fill orders to supply more than 23,000 masks within 10 days. She credits the knowledge she gained from the UN Women business trainings for allowing her to organize an effective production cycle, calculate capacity, efficiently distribute labour and time, and encourage workers to ensure quality and the timely execution of orders. 

“She was able to establish a good team that were able to complete the work efficiently is such a short period of time, which was appreciated so much!” says one of her customers, Timur Guseynov,

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Albanian women’s groups call for female-targeted COVID-19 support schemes

Saudita Marku runs a guest house for tourists and also a bee-keeping business in north Albania. Photo: UN Women Albania
Saudita Marku runs a guest house for tourists and also a bee-keeping business in north Albania. Photo: UN Women Albania

In Albania, strict measures to prevent COVID-19 are weighing on disadvantaged groups such as female heads-of-households and rural women, especially in remote areas. “This is an extraordinary challenge for women in rural areas,” says Fabiola Egro, Executive Director of Today for the Future Community Development Centre. “They have worked all their lives within family economies. Under confinement and isolation, they remain without income, and are unable to benefit from support schemes.”

According to Egro, although the Albanian Government has taken broad measures to provide economic support to different groups, these women are invisible and left out of the Government’s schemes. With almost 90 per cent of rural family businesses registered in men’s names, women are completely unable to secure their basic needs.

“We have called on local governments to apply gender lenses in the socioeconomic support schemes adopted, including using sex-disaggregated data when preparing beneficiaries’ lists. This would mean including in the COVID-19 support schemes those categories that are left behind, such as women who work in and outside their homes,” says Egro.

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In Georgia, women farmers show solidarity amid COVID-19

Keti Tomeishvili working in her greenhouse. Photo: UN Women/Tako Robakidze
Keti Tomeishvili working in her greenhouse. Photo: UN Women/Tako Robakidze

Georgian farmer Keti Tomeishvili knows from personal experience how mutual support can minimize the impact of a crisis. She runs a cucumber greenhouse and employs four local women whose family members are now unemployed because of COVID-19. 

At first, Tomeishvili increased the salary of her female employees. Then she gifted them each one of the five greenhouses. Tomeishvili was trained through a women’s economic empowerment project run by UN Women and the Georgian Farmers’ Association, through which she was able to expand her production and improve the condition of her greenhouses.

Meanwhile, a beneficiary from another UN Women project in southeast Georgia, gained wide renown after she hoed a neighbour’s potato field in order to save their potato harvest while the family was being treated in hospital for COVID-19.

“What else could we do in such a situation?” says Naira Paksadze. “If we hadn’t done it, the weeds would have spoiled everything. The family will need some source of income when they recover and get out of hospital, won’t they?”

Read the full story here.

Organizations urge protection for devastated women farmers in Serbia

Jelena Ruzic, founder of Women’s Association of Kolubara District. Photo courtesy of Women’s Association of Kolubara District
Jelena Ruzic, founder of Women’s Association of Kolubara District. Photo courtesy of Women’s Association of Kolubara District 

“Just weeks after the state of emergency was declared, we could already feel economic implications. In our daily communication with women farmers, we learned that agriculture is facing enormous consequences and that individual producers are now invisible to decision-makers,” says Jelena Ruzic, founder of the Women’s Association of Kolubara District, in western Serbia, which supports women’s economic empowerment through education and networking.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, Ruzic and 122 women involved in a UN Women-run, EU-funded project sent a letter to the Serbian Minister of Agriculture, suggesting alternatives for public transport and sales, the withdrawal of sanctions for movement for farmers, as essential workers, and protection for farmers from widespread abuse from buyers.

“Although the official response from the Minister has yet to come, we have noticed that some of the measures we suggested have been taken into account, such as the creation of an online platform to connect producers and buyers.

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Serbian NGOs focus on delivering food to alleviate economic impacts

Jelena Hrnjak. Photo courtesy of Atina NGO
Jelena Hrnjak. Photo courtesy of Atina NGO

Jelena Hrnjak is a programme manager at Atina NGO in Serbia, a partner of an EU-UN Women project that focuses on women’s social entrepreneurship to economically empower survivors of human trafficking. Atina’s social enterprise, Bagel Bejgl, had to close its doors amid the COVID-19 lockdown, and survivors are focusing instead on delivering their bagels to alleviate the economic impacts.

Hrnjak spoke to UN Women about how this situation will affect survivors and their economic independence. “In the first weeks of the pandemic, 31 per cent of women survivors informed us that they had lost their jobs. By the second week, it was 55 per cent. In week four, as I write these lines, 92 per cent of these women are without any income,” she explains.

“Clearly, we have a great test ahead of us. I strongly believe that continuing to invest in women’s social entrepreneurship is the right recipe to overcome this and all other crises.” 

Read the full story here.


*Her name has been changed to protect her identity.

[1] Albania, Kosovo[2], North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Montenegro Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Ukraine.

[2] All references to Kosovo on this website shall be understood to be in full compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).