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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

Hearing loss a silent public health crisis in South Africa
2017-03-27

Description: Hearing loss a silent public health crisis in South Africa Tags: Hearing, Deaf, World Hearing Day
Dr Magteld Smith engages on the topic of hearing loss
and how it coincides with the commemoration of
World Hearing awareness during the month of March.
Photo: Oteng Mpete 

Communication is a principal challenge for people with hearing loss. It can be difficult to negotiate everyday interactions, whether in the workplace, on the street, in classrooms, courts, during consultations with health professionals, or even when contacting the police. The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) World Hearing Day is an annual advocacy event held each year on 3 March to raise awareness and promote ear and hearing care across the world. In many countries this awareness campaign usually starts on 3 March but many continue to create awareness for the full month of March. 

Hearing loss is a global reality
According to Dr Magteld Smith, a researcher at the University of the Free State (UFS) School of Medicine’s Department of Otorhinolaryngology, unaddressed hearing loss poses a high cost for the economy globally and has a significant impact on the lives of those affected. Interventions to address hearing loss are available in South Africa but are not accessible or affordable for most citizens. This is partly because not only persons with hearing loss but also people with disabilities experience barriers in accessing services that many of us take for granted, including health, education, employment, and transport as well as information. These difficulties are exacerbated in less-advantaged communities.

“WHO estimates that there are more than 360 million persons with hearing loss globally. The statistics in South Africa are unreliable due to the different definitions used by Statistics South Africa and the absence of training of the officials who conduct and collect statistics concerning hearing loss in South Africa,” says Dr Smith. 

According to Dr Smith, analysis from retrospective studies reflects that about 17 out of 1 000 infants are born daily in South Africa with severe to profound hearing loss. However, Dr Smith states that the number could be higher because of late diagnosis, high levels of undiagnosed and untreated hearing loss. This excludes young adults, adults and the elderly as well as children with acquired (become deaf after birth) hearing loss.

Crisis that needs urgent intervention 
Dr Smith says hearing loss is an emergency which the South African government fails to prioritise. She says that research published confirms that the risk compounding the projected increase in hearing loss that comes with an ageing population. This is a looming and silent public-health crisis.
She believes that the government should take urgent action to align research-spending with the current and projected size and impact of hearing loss. It should also collaborate across related conditions, such as vision, neurodegenerative diseases and neurological conditions. Furthermore, the government needs, and is obligated, to deliver more accessible and integrated services and develop quality standards that take account of the whole pathway – linking public health, clinical and social needs.

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