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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

HEDSA discusses better services for students with disabilities
2010-09-30

At the gala dinner were, from the left: Anlia Pretorius, Chairperson of HEDSA and Head of the Disability Unit at the University of the Witwatersrand; Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training; Ms Hetsie Veitch, Head of the Unit for Students with Disabilities at the UFS; and Prof. Niel Viljoen, Vice-Rector: Operations at the UFS.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

The first ever General Meeting of the Higher Education Disability Services Association (HEDSA) was held on the Main Campus of the University of the Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein this week. HEDSA is a newly constituted body that represents the Disability Units from the various universities across the country.

The UFS is a member of HEDSA, which aims to work together to promote equal opportunities for students with disabilities in terms of access, participation and success in Higher Education.

The General Meeting forms part of the launching symposium with the theme: New Beginnings and New Directions. The symposium, attended by 15 higher education institutions in South Africa, served as a platform to explore innovative approaches to assist in improving services for students with disabilities.

Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training, was one of the speakers at the gala dinner of this prestigious event. He said that there is still a lot of work to do to overcome discrimination against students as well as staff members with disabilities at higher education institutions. Minister Nzimande quoted from the Soudien report, a government-commissioned report that brought to light discrimination – especially racism and sexism – still endemic at South African universities. “Victims, in this instance referring to students and staff with disabilities, are denied the opportunity – either through a lack of access to opportunities or due to outright discrimination – to realise their full potential. In the process, the country is robbed of valuable but untapped human resources. Higher education institutions cause incalculable damage to South African society by failing to deal boldly with these issues. Where institutions have indeed taken action, the benefits to individuals, to the different social groups in the country, as well as to the institutions themselves, have been major.”

He stated that he believed that HEDSA as well as the symposium could play a vital role that would assist in this process.

Ms Hetsie Veitch, Head of the Unit for Students with Disabilities at the UFS, was elected as treasurer of this body for the following two years. Johnny Mokoka will represent the UFS in HEDSA’s National Student Organisation for Students with Disabilities that was established during the symposium this week.

Media Release
Issued by: Leonie Bolleurs
Strategic Communication
Tel: 051 401 2707
Sel: 0836455853
Email: bolleursl@ufs.ac.za  
30 September 2010

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