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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

A real indaba it was
2010-09-07

Pictured from the left, are: Prof. Dennis Francis (Dean), Prof. Rita Niemann (Director: Postgraduate Studies and Research) and Prof. Rob Pattman (Keynote speaker: UKZN).

No expert panels! No rubrics! Only a fair measure of healthy anxiety that goes with public speaking!

These features describe the meeting that staff members from the Faculty of Education recently had at Indaba Lodge on the banks of the Modder River. The purpose of this get-together was to create a time and space where staff members could not only celebrate their own research efforts, but also acknowledge, support and validate one another’s work.

The day kicked off with the dean’s research vision for the faculty. Thereafter seven staff members doing their Ph.D.s were introduced. Their presentations were followed by inputs from the guest speaker, Prof. Rob Pattman from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). He congratulated the presenters on their cutting-edge research, their eloquence and the manner in which they managed to communicate complex matters in simple ways. Ideas he shared from his own research on social identities and critical agency (with a focus on gender and race) served to affirm the relevance of the topics presented by the Ph.D. candidates in transforming the education system as well as the South African society as a whole.

A festive lunch, in honour of retiring Prof. Johan van Staden, brought an affective dimension to the Indaba in the form of heart-felt goodbye messages from colleagues who had shared his academic life for more than 20 years.

After lunch five master’s students had the opportunity to share their research in the form of poster presentations. A lively interest among participants and critical, but constructive questions characterised this session. A potpourri session followed, comprising work in progress, completed surveys, research awards and innovative research methods.

The wrap-up by Prof. Dennis in no uncertain terms affirmed that researchers in the Faculty of Education not only crossed the Modder River, but also the proverbial Rubicon on 21 August. It was envisaged that henceforth:
- Supervision will take on a collaborative character.
- Soon a research forum for Ph.D. students and their supervisors will be established where these students and supervisors can start practising their agency.
- Instead of relying on outside experts who come and “tell” faculty staff members what to do, insiders should start building their own vibrant research-based practices by forming reading groups to discuss seminal works (e.g. Foucault and Freire) and research methodologies (e.g. Burke’s Pentad).

The Indaba was aptly concluded by one of the participants who, on behalf of all attendees, thanked and congratulated the dean on the initiative to give impetus to research. Analogous to the 2010 slogan, Feel it, it is here!, he said: “I feel so inspired and empowered, I can almost taste it!”
 

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