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08 April 2021 | Story Nonsindiso Qwabe | Photo Sonia SMall

How has COVID-19 further widened the gender inequality gap in the workplace?

This was the central question addressed during the first instalment of a webinar series on Gender and Social Justice hosted by the Unit for Institutional Change and Social Justice at the University of the Free State (UFS). The webinar, which was hosted on the UFS Qwaqwa Campus on 29 March 2021, featured Prof Pearl Sithole, Qwaqwa Campus Vice-Principal: Academic and Research; Advocate Nthabiseng Sepanya-Mogale, Commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE); and Tholo Motaung, skills trainer, moderator, and gender activist at the Vaal University of Technology as panellists. 

Prof Sithole said COVID-19 revealed the disparity that still exists between men and women in the workplace. “COVID-19 has been the magnifier. We’ve modernised quite a lot, but we’re still unequal in terms of gender. Why are we not progressing in terms of women moving forward towards equality when there has been so much progressive thinking in the political space, social justice space, as well as in the kind of feminism we have had in academia? Why are we actually not winning the battle of just regarding each other as equals?” 

Women hardest hit by COVID-19 lockdown

Advocate Sepanya-Mogale said the lockdown revealed the gender gap mostly through the significant impact it has had on South African women.

In 2020, 34% of the country’s workforce comprised women – a sharp decline of 9,8% from 43,8% in 2018.
“This decline is alarming and a clear indication of who becomes the first victims, but that is hardly talked about. A lot of women have experienced resistance from industries they had been serving diligently,” she said. She said women were often faced with the burden of integrating their work with increased care responsibilities for their children and sometimes also the elderly as primary caregivers. The double responsibility placed on women continues to re-enforce gender roles in our societies and further pushes away the success of closing the gap on gender equality prospects in our society.

Advocate Sepanya-Mogale said women were the hardest hit in most industries. In the beauty and tourism industry; air transportation; informal trading; and healthcare sector to name a few, women bore the brunt the most. “Women are the biggest employees on all economic levels in South Africa, especially the low-income and unskilled levels,” she said.
She said as the spread of the virus was likely to continue disrupting economic activity, all sectors of society needed to get involved and play their part.

“As disease outbreaks are not likely to disappear in the near future, proactive international action is required to not only save lives but to also protect economic prosperity. Academic institutions are authorities in terms of opening up new discussions, leading new debates, and putting critical issues at the centre of the table. Let us all do what we can so that we empower our people relevantly for the times we’re living in.”

News Archive

University of the Free State strives towards going ‘green’
2017-08-07

 Description: Benedict Mochesela  Tags: Benedict Mochesela  

Benedict Mochesela from University Estates on the
UFS Bloemfontein Campus. A total of thirty brand-new
water storage tanks, between 5 000 and 20 000 litres,
were installed.
Photo: Anja Aucamp


Eight provinces, including the Free State, were declared disaster areas last year due to the ongoing drought. This had a devastating effect on the agricultural sector, leaving many communities dry.

University Estates at the University of the Free State found an ideal project to make university buildings greener. A total of thirty water storage tanks, varying in size from 5 000 to 20 000 litres, were installed at various buildings on the Bloemfontein Campus. As a pilot phase, these tanks were specifically installed at residences and buildings with high traffic volumes.

Importance of water tanks at the UFS
According to Benedict Mochesela, Project Manager of this initiative, the purpose of the project is to harvest rainwater, which will be used during emergencies when the campus does not have water and the emergency water storage facility is depleted. “This water is not intended for drinking, but for the flushing of toilets,” says Mochesela.

He mentioned that the water will also be used for watering flowerbeds and gardens when the water has been standing for a long time without being used.

Recycling water: An initiative to protect the environment
A number of water storage tanks are already in place at the Qwaqwa Campus and a preliminary phase of using grey water from residences is currently ongoing at the South Campus. Grey water is made up of bath, shower, and bathroom sink water. The water is reused for toilet flushing as well as for irrigation purposes.

“Recycling of water is one of a number of initiatives the university intends to undertake to ensure and show the community that this institution remains conscious of the environment and to changes which we continuously need to adapt to.”

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