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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.”

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Law postgraduate student awarded IAWJ and Faculty of Law bursary
2017-03-02

Description: Association of women judges gala dinner 2017 Tags: Association of women judges gala dinner 2017


The University of the Free State Faculty of Law, in conjunction with the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) South Africa Chapter, hosted a gala dinner on 25 February 2017, in Bloemfontein, to raise awareness on the development programmes that women judges in South Africa, and specifically in the Free State, are involved in.

Focus on development of upcoming legal professionals
The event was a glamorous occasion attended by high-ranking officials in the Free State judiciary and Faculty of Law staff and students. Central to the evening’s events was the launch and presentation of the IAWJ/UFS Faculty of Law bursary that was presented to Mbali Mathebula, who is enrolled for an LLM at the UFS in 2017. Judge Mahube Molemela, Judge-President of the Free State High Court, and Chancellor of the Central University of Technology (CUT), presented the bursary to Mbali, commending her for choosing a poignant research thesis that focused on the rights of children with disabilities in South Africa. Judge Molemela expressed the importance of perseverance through study, and self-development as the key to a successful career in Law.

Transformation in the legal profession still a challenge
Some of the speakers of the evening included Prof Caroline Nicholson, Dean of the Faculty of Law and programme director, Judge Soma Naidoo, who gave introductory remarks, and Judge Mandisa Maya. In her remarks, Judge Maya outlined some of the prevailing challenges that women judicial officers still face, despite decades of reforms in the legal profession. She said: “Women in the judiciary are torchbearers who inspire and empower others, especially young women, and should strive to achieve high moral standards and exceptional scholarship.”

IAWJ mentors upcoming legal professionals
Judge Naidoo said the association had, over the past seven years, partnered with universities such as UFS, University of Pretoria (UP), University of South Africa (Unisa) and University of Cape Town (UCT) to support students through social outreach programmes. She noted the involvement of corporates and other legal professionals as key to their success. Judge Naidoo said the IAWJ had been instrumental in providing training for legal professionals in areas such as trafficking in persons across the Southern African Development Community (SADC), supported by the US Embassy in Pretoria, and had held health and wellness programmes for legal officers around the country.

The gala dinner was a celebration of the successes of the association over the years, and an opportunity to reflect on the important issues that women face in the legal profession, as well as a call to action for students and young legal professionals. The proceeds from the evening will be used to further mentor and develop law students around the country.

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