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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

Unconventional oil and gas extraction – study for Water Research Commission reveals possible impacts
2014-11-05

 

Photo: Legalplanet.org
The Centre for Environmental Management (CEM) at the University of the Free State (UFS) recently completed a three-year project for the Water Research Commission. The purpose was to develop an interactive vulnerability map and monitoring framework for unconventional oil and gas extraction (final report still to be published).

Due to the complexity of this field, a number of participants across different disciplines and universities were involved in this trans-disciplinary study. Contributors included the Departments of Sociology, Physics and Mathematical Statistics from the UFS, the University of Pretoria Natural Hazard Centre, Africa, as well as the Institute of Marine and Environmental Law from the University of Cape Town.

Unconventional oil and gas extraction, its related impacts and the management of this activity to ensure environmental protection, is a controversial issue in many countries worldwide. Since the extraction of oil and gas using unconventional techniques is an unprecedented activity in South Africa, the project focused on understanding this extraction process as well as hydraulic fracturing and identifying possible environmental and socio-economic impacts associated with this activity in the South African context. An understanding of the possible impacts could aid government during the development of policy aimed at protecting the environment.

The researchers subsequently identified indicators to develop an interactive vulnerability map for unconventional oil and gas in South Africa. The vulnerability map focuses on specific mapping themes, which include surface water, groundwater, vegetation, seismicity and socio-economics. In addition, the map provides information on the vulnerability of the specified mapping themes to unconventional gas extraction on a regional scale. This map is intended as a reconnaissance tool to inform decision-makers on areas where additional detail field work and assessments may be required. It can also be used during Environmental Impact Assessments and determining licensing conditions.

Lastly, a monitoring framework was developed, which describes monitoring requirements for specific entities – surface water, groundwater, vegetation, seismicity and socio-economics – for the different phases of unconventional oil and gas extraction. Such monitoring is an important part of environmental protection. It is especially important for South Africa to perform baseline monitoring before exploration starts to ensure that we will have reference conditions to identify what impact oil and gas extraction activities has on the biophysical and socio-economic environments.


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