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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

Societal perceptions of women in politics in Cameroon must change
2017-08-30

 Description: Prof Atanga readmore Tags: Prof Lilian Atanga, University of Bamenda, Faculty of Humanities, Centre for Africa Studies, political participation of women 

Prof Lilian Lem Atanga presented a lecture,
Gender, Discourse and Cognition and Implications on
Political Participation, 
as part of the First Humanities
and Gendered Worlds Lecture 2017.
Photo: Charl Devenish


Women have not internalised the fact that they can participate on an equal footing in politics with men. This is one of the conclusions made by Prof Lilian Lem Atanga in a study of the political participation of women in Cameroon.
“There still is a strong belief that women can’t deliver the goods (in areas such as politics),” Prof Atanga said. According to her, stereotypes were still entrenched in Africa and a lot had to be done to change societal perceptions of the role of women in politics.

Poor representation of women in politics
Prof Atanga, an associate professor at the University of Bamenda in Cameroon, was guest speaker at the First Humanities and Gendered Worlds Lecture 2017. The lecture was hosted by the Faculty of Humanities and the Centre for Africa Studies (CAS) at the University of the Free State (UFS) in the Equitas Auditorium, Bloemfontein Campus, on 3 August 2017. The title of the research fellow’s lecture at the CAS lecture was Gender, Discourse and Cognition and Implications on Political Participation.
She noted that although there had been a marked increase in the political participation of women in Cameroon, it still was insufficient. Of the 24 million people in the country, 52% were women but only 20% of the senators and 31% of parliamentarians were women. 

Gender-segregated roles affect participation 
And there are many reasons for this. “A lot more women still believe in gender-segregated roles and this affects their political participation.” Many men also don’t approve of women’s political participation.
In her study Prof Atanga found that stereotypes were also emphasised in the way the media in Cameroon reported on the roles of women. 

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