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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

Public Protector addresses large audience
2012-04-23

Adv. Madonsela condemns corruption and poor service delivery in South Africa.
20 April 2012

Audio of the lecture


Video of the lecture

Apartheid cannot be blamed for poor service delivery in the country - corruption should shoulder the blame. Eighteen years into democracy, South Africa still has a long way to go before it becomes the society it envisaged for itself.

“We are not there yet,” South Africa’s Public Protector, Adv. Thuli Madonsela, told a packed Wynand Mouton Theatre on the University of the Free State’s Bloemfontein Campus on Tuesday 17 April 2012. She delivered a public lecture on “Academic freedom and corruption in the context of secrecy laws”.

“Are we closer to becoming a society where values such as human dignity are sacrosanct, where freedom for everyone is the order of the day?” Adv. Madonsela asked the audience comprising students, academics and community members. She said corruption is the silent thief that steals the country’s constitutional dream, causing the poor to live undignified lives.

Adv. Madonsela appealed to students and academics to help retrieve the constitutional dream. In encouraging academic discourse on corruption, she said corruption is not only one person’s problem, but that of everybody. She told academics they could help develop the law and so help in the fight against corruption.

Adv. Madonsela, who spent most of Tuesday on the Bloemfontein Campus, met with senior management from the university as well as students earlier.

Her public lecture late on Tuesday afternoon had the Wynand Mouton Theatre bursting at the seams. Some members of the audience sat on the steps inside the theatre to hear the lecture.

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