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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

‘Miratho’ seeks to drive policy-changing research through international collaboration
2017-09-29

Description: ' AM Bathmaker CRHED Miratho Tags: AM Bathmaker CRHED Miratho

From the left: Phathu Mudau (Thusanani Foundation),
Prof Melanie Walker (UFS), Prof Ann-Marie Bathmaker
(University of Birmingham), Prof Monica McLean
(University of Nottingham), and Fulu Ratshisusu
(Thusanani Foundation).

Photo: Eugene Seegers

Miratho is a TshiVenda word that refers to informal, self-made bridges, which are usually built by rural community members during floods or other natural disasters. These are usually dangerous, unstable constructions, and only the brave tend to use them. When community members build miratho, though, they create opportunities for stranded students to attend school. Miratho symbolise the determination to access education even in the face of danger, and working with others to make progress.

The Miratho Research Project is led by the Centre for Research on Higher Education and Development (CRHED) at the University of the Free State (UFS), in partnership with the Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham in the UK, and the Thusanani Foundation. The project is jointly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Department for International Development in the UK, as well as the National Research Foundation in South Africa. The project research team consists of Prof Melanie Walker, Prof Merridy Wilson-Strydom and Dr Mikateko Höppener from CRHED at the UFS, Prof Monica McLean from the University of Nottingham, and Prof Ann-Marie Bathmaker from the University of Birmingham.

Miratho is a four-year project, stretching until August 2020, which seeks to investigate multidimensional dynamics shaping or inhibiting disadvantaged students’ capabilities to access higher education, participate and succeed in it, as well as move from higher education to work. By means of a systematic, integrated and longitudinal mixed-methods investigation, Prof Walker and her team, in close collaboration with the Thusanani Foundation, aim to develop an inclusive, capabilities-based higher education Index, which in turn would serve to inform policy and practice interventions that challenge inequalities that have an impact on learning outcomes.

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