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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

Goodwill and unity reigns supreme at official opening
2014-02-07

Video
Transcription: Prof Jonathan Jansen speech

The academic year at the UFS was officially opened by Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector, at a splendid event with staff at the Bloemfontein Campus. “The UFS is no longer the place it was four years ago. When I arrived here, the place was very much divided. The picture is very different today. Staff and students have come together and are spending time together as friends. A new spirit reigns at the university. People are no longer mad at each other; they talk to each other,” Prof Jansen said.

The reason: students know that they are loved and respected. The people responsible for this – the staff.

Prof Jansen particularly emphasised the capacity of staff members to change and to care. “Change at the UFS is possible because of the positive attitude of staff and students. This creates an atmosphere where students can learn to love and forgive.

“We have reached a new consensus where racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia are wrong. We also address this bad behaviour immediately.

“Another highlight at the UFS is the changes in the academy. Debate is deeper and more progressive. We have the best intellectual debates at the UFS. We are also proud of our young researchers in the Prestige Scholars Programme. We are excited, because in five years’ time we will reap the fruits from the efforts of young, as well as older researchers who have worked hard so that we can deliver the best researchers.

“There is another shift in the academic culture on campus with our students increasingly looking academically stronger.

“Besides the capacity of staff to change, they also have a capacity for caring. Projects such as the Staff Fund and the No Student Hungry Programme is doing well, with the NSH Programme raising more than R1 million to feed hungry students,” Prof Jansen said.

At this event, Prof Jansen also gave recognition to the team involved with and working very hard at the Schools Change Project, which is largely responsible for the Free State’s good matric results. With the inspiration of the staff involved with this project, a difference is made to schools in the Free State.

“Our staff members do more than is stipulated in their contracts. Our staff members do their jobs from the heart,” Prof Jansen said.

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