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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

Social work students off to Sweden on exchange programme
2015-08-17


Excited about the prospects of studying in Sweden, Letttie and Moratoe already have their bags packed. Photo: Valentino Ndaba

In 2011 the university signed an exchange programme agreement with Jönköping University (JU), in Sweden. Since the inception of the contract the UFS Department of Social Work has been able to send two second year students to the guest university for a semester annually while also hosting students from JU.

 

The UFS is one of only 350 partner universities that JU co-operates with on an international level. The university that describes itself as “the most international university on Sweden” welcomes 714 exchanged students annually. This year, their School of Health and Welfare will host two of our Social work students, Moratoe Tshabalala and Lettie Mohoko; who are the fourth duo to take this unique opportunity.

These Kovsies will join the JU from 17 August-20 December 2015. By focusing on Swedish Social work and welfare policy, participation and inclusion, and Old-age care, they intend to use the learning experience to influence our country’s welfare system.

Growing up in Wesselsbron - a small town in the Free State, Lettie has always been passionate about working with people and having a positive impact on their lives. She sees the exchange programme as an opportunity to gain an international perspective which will provide more skills, hence improving her community engagement.

Moratoe, who is from the small town of Senekal, echoed similar sentiments, adding that she is interested in the distinctiveness of Sweden’s social welfare system, which offers free education, where old people get free care from the government, and children get incentives to attend school.

Lettie and Moratoe also volunteer as representatives of the UFS at ENGO Family Care, a non-profit organisation in Bloemfontein.

Dr Anneline Keet, Head of the UFS Social Work Department, believes that the exchange experience enhances the students’ critical thinking, and facilitates their ability to engage with different social welfare systems. While only two students are able to experience the full exchange annually, the rest of the students also benefit from the discussions taking place in class where students from the guest university (JU) join them for a semester.

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