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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

Early diagnosis of hearing loss is important
2017-09-11

  Description: Magteld small Tags: birth defects, hearing loss, Dr Magteld Smith, Department of Otorhinolaryngology

Dr Magteld Smith, lecturer in the
Department of Otorhinolaryngology
at the University of the Free State (UFS)
Photo: Supplied


One of the most common, misunderstood and neglected birth defects in developing countries is hearing loss, which can most severely impair and have a dramatic impact of the quality of life the of the person with hearing loss. 

This is according to Dr Magteld Smith, lecturer in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at the University of the Free State (UFS). 

“Hearing loss refers to all the different types and levels of hearing loss, from slight to profound hearing loss,” she said. 

Derived from a number of retrospective studies in South Africa, it was found 17 people a day are born with hearing loss. More than 95% of those children are born to hearing parents. This estimate excludes children and adults who lost their hearing after birth. 

According to Dr Smith, hearing loss strikes at the very essence of being human, because it hinders communication with others. To enable people to communicate with those with hearing loss, the university’s Department of South African Sign Language teaches students sign language. This year, the department enrolled 230 students. A number of these students are from the Faculty of Education. These students could from 2017 for the first time choose sign language as a subject.

“Studies have shown that important language skills are learned before the age of three because hearing and learning language are closely tied together. Brain development of the auditory pathways and language cortex is occurring in young children as they respond to auditory and visual language. In families that are part of deaf culture, these parents automatically sign from day one, so the baby is learning visual (sign) language, and the appropriate brain development is occurring.

Beskrywing: Doof readmore Sleutelwoorde: geboorte-afwykings, gehoorverlies, dr Magteld Smith, Departement Otorinolaringologie

About 230 students are enrolled for the subject, South African 
Sign Language, at the UFS. As an assignment some of the students 
were asked to design posters to create deaf awareness among 
others on campus. From the left are: Poleliso Mpahane, 
Masajin Koalepe, Ntshitsa Mosase, and Zoleka Ncamane. 
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

“However, if a child has an undiagnosed hearing loss and the parents are unaware, the child will not receive the needed language stimulation — and the hoped-for development won’t take place. It is critical to understand that children with hearing loss have their own talents, different levels of intelligence, socioeconomic circumstances and different abilities, just like hearing children. Therefore, one size does not fit all,” Dr Smith said. 

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