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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

Award-winning architect firm presents the 29th Sophia Gray Memorial Lecture and Exhibition
2017-09-07

  Description: Arch break Tags: Sophia Gray Memorial Lecture and Exhibition, Elphick Proome Architects, South African Institute of Architects

At the Sophia Gray Bursary Fund breakfast, were from the left:
Henry Pretorius, head of the UFS Department of Architecture,
AJ Corbett, and Boipelo Morule, third-year student
in Architecture and Prof Francis Petersen, UFS Rector
and Vice-Chancellor, 
at the UFS
Photo: Stephen Collett

The laureates of this year’s Sophia Gray Memorial Lecture were George Elphick and Nicholas Proome from the award-winning architecture firm, Elphick Proome Architects (EPA). Over the past 28 years this Durban firm has received 26 awards and its work has been published in 26 magazines.  

From bedroom to boardroom
EPA is involved in major corporate architecture as well as several residential projects. It believes that good design is produced from careful study and research combined with sound technical knowledge and artistic judgement. At the 29th Sophia Gray lecture, presented by the Department of Architecture at the University of the Free State, EPA addressed the Bloemfontein community, stating that architecture was about people, space and light. 

For EPA, architecture is the form of art with the most impact on society. “Ultimately, our architecture needs to be enjoyed and be hard to forget,” it said. 

In its three decades of practice, most of EPA’s built work has been executed in South Africa. It has also completed projects beyond South African borders, including Mozambique, Kenya, Ghana, and France. 

The lecture was followed by the opening of the 29th Sophia Gray Memorial Exhibition at Oliewenhuis Art Museum.

New PhD in Architecture with Design announced
A highlight at this year’s lecture was the announcement by Henry Pretorius, the head of the department, of a new and innovative doctoral programme, the PhD in Architecture with Design. From 2018, students with a MArch (professional) or MArch can enrol for this postgraduate qualification.

“The programme recognises the intelligence and ingenuity of design. Its primary objective is to harvest and study the implicit orientations, operations, and achievements of design, and to enlist creativity in the formation of new knowledge. The degree facilitates analytical reflection, stimulates creative action, and opens new insights into the unique logic of design,” said Pretorius.

“Although design-based research has gained international momentum in recent years, similar research has not been done in South Africa until now.”

Contribution to the Sophia Gray Bursary Fund 
During a breakfast function, the department also announced another initiative, the Sophia Gray Bursary Fund. Prof Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor at the UFS, said that the type of architecture in developing countries was different from places such as New York and other big cities in developed countries. For a transformed profession we need architects from different cultures and demographics in the system. The bursary fund was a fantastic starting point for this to happen. 

The Sophia Gray Bursary Fund initiative is part of a greater call to alumni and friends of the department to be actively involved in the department’s continuous development and future endeavours towards imagination, care, and excellence.
AJ Corbett, founder and director of TCN Architects in East London, made the first contribution towards the fund. 

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