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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

From wheat protein to perfect pizza
2017-09-26

Description: Phd Read more Tags: Barend Wentzel, Department of Plant Sciences, plant breeding, proteins, Agricultural Research Council 

Barend Wentzel received his PhD at the Department
of Plant Sciences during the university’s
winter graduation ceremony.
He is pictured here with Prof Maryke Labuschagne,
professor in Plant Breeding at the UFS.
Photo: Charl Devenish

Barend Wentzel, an alumnus of the University of the Free State’s Department of Plant Sciences, is passionate about plant breeding. 

He literally eats and lives wheat proteins. In 1989 he initiated a breeding programme on arum lilies. “This breeding programme is at an advanced stage,” he said. Besides reading, playing the piano and accordion, Barend, due to the nature of his research at the Agricultural Research Council, also experiments with different types of ciabatta recipes made from sour dough. “I usually make my own pizza on Saturday evenings,” he said.

He is working at the Agricultural Research Council – Small Grain (ARC-SG) at the Wheat Quality Laboratory where he established a Cereal Chemistry Laboratory.

Complexity of flour quality

He explains that the focus of his research is on wheat protein composition. “The research conducted for my PhD study explains the complexity of flour quality to a certain extent, and it further emphasises the influence of the environment and genetic composition on selected baking characteristics. 

“Wheat protein can be divided into different types of protein fractions. These protein fractions contribute differently to dough properties and baking quality and the expression is affected by different components in the environment, including locality, rainfall and temperature. 

“Protein content alone does, however, not explain the variation in baking quality parameters, such as mixing time, dough strength and extensibility, and loaf volume.

“Several methods can be applied to quantify the different protein fractions. I am using high-performance liquid-chromatography (HPLC). The procedure entails the separation of a wheat protein extract through a column with chromatographic packing material. The injected sample is pumped through the column (known as the stationary phase) with a solvent (known as the mobile phase). The specific procedure, size-exclusion high-performance liquid-chromatography (SE-HPLC), is also used by the university’s Department of Plant Breeding, as well as in several international Cereal Chemistry Laboratories,” said Barend.

Dough strength and to loaf volume
“One of the highlights from the study was the positive contribution of the albumin and globulin protein fractions to dough strength and to loaf volume. The findings were wheat cultivar specific and the growing environment influenced the expression. The contribution of these protein fractions was much larger than previously reported for South African wheat cultivars,” said Barend. 
“Previous reports indicated that these protein fractions had a non-specific contribution to the gluten network during dough formation. The findings from this PhD justify further research on albumins and globulin proteins.” 

The Cereal Chemistry Laboratory at ARC-SG is involved in postgraduate student training under Barend’s guidance. He serves as co-promoter for several MSc and PhD students. He is also a collaborator on an international project with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico. Barend is furthermore working on improving wheat quality for processing and health purposes as a member of the expert working group of the International Wheat Initiative. 

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