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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

Experts to exchange insights on historical trauma
2014-02-20

Programme

An international group of scholars and practitioners will meet at the Bloemfontein Campus of the University of the Free State on Tuesday 25 and Wednesday 26 February 2014. This will be the first research symposium in a series of four in which experts will share their insights on the aftermath of mass trauma and violence. The symposium brings together scholars from across the globe whose research explores various aspects of historical trauma in Chile, Peru, Cambodia, Rwanda, Kosovo, Mozambique, Germany as well as South Africa.

Discussions on South Africa will include the historical traumas of the Anglo-Boer War and the apartheid years. Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, who is co-hosting the symposium with Prof Björn Krondorfer of Northern Arizona University, explains that the gathering is designed as an International Research Forum with the aim to foster multidisciplinary collaborations. The forum is expected to lead to innovative scholarship, new avenues of inquiry and the advancement of knowledge.

The symposium will kick off on Tuesday 25 February with a morning session from 8:45–12:00. The UFS community is welcome to attend this open forum.This session will include speakers such as Prof Kimberly Theidon of Harvard University and Dr Susan Glisson, Executive Director of the William Winter Center for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi. Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector, will deliver an address followed by a discussion on the Human and Academic Projects at the university as strategies of transformation.

The public session will close with a students’ round-table discussion of the Hector Pieterson iconic photo of the 1976 Soweto Uprisings staged as an event in the Anglo-Boer War.

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