Decades of work and hard-won gains into achieving gender equality in the labour market in South Africa could be derailed by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is according to a research paper by the Southern African Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Lead author Dr Jacqueline Mosomi said that the paper, “Unpacking the potential implications of COVID-19 for gender inequality in the SA labour market”, studied the industries adversely affected by the pandemic – and in turn, what this means for gender equality in the labour market.
Since the onset of democracy, Dr Mosomi said, women have made significant progress in the labour market. Research indicates that the gender wage gap improved from 40% in 1994 to 16% in 2014. But as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown, these gains hang in the balance.
“Because of the nature of the occupations women are in, they are at a higher risk of losing their source of income.”
“Because of the nature of the occupations women are in, they are at a higher risk of losing their source of income. They are also more likely to be exposed to the virus when compared [with] men,” Mosomi said.
According to Mosomi, in the past, global financial crises have unintentionally reduced gender inequality in the labour market – only because they have impacted male-dominated industries more than industries dominated by women. However, the health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic set it apart from past economic downturns.
She noted that the pandemic and lockdown have directly affected some of the largest employment industries for women in the country. Four key sectors which employ mainly women have been hardest hit. These include the services sector, which employs approximately 31% of all employed women; followed by the trade, finance and domestic worker sectors, which employ 22%, 15% and 14% of women respectively.
“One concern is that the COVID-19 pandemic may undermine access to income for women – and black women, in particular – more so than for men. This is because female employment is clustered in the services sector, adversely affected by the health and safety protocols implemented to reduce infection,” she said.
This could be a major setback for gender equality in the labour market, she added.
Unpacking the findings
Mosomi said that because Level 5 of the nationwide lockdown required a complete shutdown of services, with the exception of essential workers, more women experienced loss of income, compared with men.
The research indicated that 66.48% of employed women were not classified as essential services staff, compared with 59.05% of employed men. And because of the nature of their jobs, these women could not work from home, resulting in a loss of income.
“[Many of] the essential services categories – like mining, construction, plant machine operators and protective services – are male-dominated industries.”
“This is largely because [many of] the essential services categories – like mining, construction, plant machine operators and protective services – are male-dominated industries,” she said.
On the other hand, the study revealed that other occupations dominated by women are reported to leave women 16% more at risk of contracting infectious diseases, such as COVID-19. Roughly 23% of the jobs occupied by women are directly exposed to infectious disease, compared with 7% of the jobs occupied by men.
The data demonstrates that aside from making up most of the domestic workers and primary school teachers in the country, women also make up 78% of personal care workers, 92% of home-based care workers, 57% of doctors, 87% of nurses, 76% of medical assistants and 47% of pharmacists.
“The implications here for women who continued to work throughout the hard lockdown because they were classified as essential services staff, [is that] they were – and still are – more exposed to the virus,” Mosomi said.
Previous research by the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) indicated that a whopping 67% of the jobs lost during lockdown Level 5 were occupied by women. According to Statistics South Africa, in the first two quarters of 2020 the services sector shed 515 000 jobs, followed by the trade sector (373 000), the domestic worker sector (311 000), the finance sector (283 000), the construction sector (278 000) and the manufacturing sector (250 000).
“Of great concern is that even with the easing of lockdown restrictions under Level 3 of lockdown, employment numbers didn’t improve significantly.”
“These sectors are dominated by women. Of great concern is that even with the easing of lockdown restrictions under Level 3 of lockdown, employment numbers didn’t improve significantly,” Mosomi added.
“With this as a reality, a major concern for us is that the progress that has been made towards reducing gender inequality in the labour market over the last 20 years will be held back. We need to work very hard to turn the tanker around.”
Researchers have committed to keeping a close eye on this area, and will track any progress or regress made.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Please view the republishing articles page for more information.
COVID-19 is a global pandemic that caused President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster in South Africa on 15 March 2020 and to implement a national lockdown from 26 March.
UCT is taking the threat of infection in our university community extremely seriously, and this page will be updated regularly with the latest COVID-19 information. Please note that the information on this page is subject to change depending on current lockdown regulations.
Getting credible, evidence-based, accessible information and recommendations relating to COVID-19
The Department of Medicine at the University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital, are producing educational video material for use on digital platforms and in multiple languages. The information contained in these videos is authenticated and endorsed by the team of experts based in the Department of Medicine. Many of the recommendations are based on current best evidence and are aligned to provincial, national and international guidelines. For more information on UCT’s Department of Medicine, please visit the website.
To watch more videos like these, visit the Department of Medicine’s YouTube channel.
As the COVID-19 crisis drags on and evolves, civil society groups are responding to growing and diversifying needs – just when access to resources is becoming more insecure, writes UCT’s Prof Ralph Hamann.03 Jul 2020 - 6 min read Republished
The Covid-19 crisis has reinforced the global consequences of fragmented, inadequate and inequitable healthcare systems and the damage caused by hesitant and poorly communicated responses.24 Jun 2020 - >10 min read Opinion
Our scientists must not practise in isolation, but be encouraged to be creative and increase our knowledge of the needs of developing economies, write Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, vice-chancellor of UCT, and Professor Thokozani Majozi from the University of the Witwatersrand.09 Jun 2020 - 6 min read Republished
South Africa has been recognised globally for its success in flattening the curve, which came as a result of President Ramaphosa responding quickly to the crisis, writes Prof Alan Hirsch.28 Apr 2020 - 6 min read Republished
In an email to the UCT community, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said:
“COVID-19, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, is a rapidly changing epidemic. [...] Information [...] will be updated as and when new information becomes available.”
We are continuing to monitor the situation and we will be updating the UCT community regularly – as and when there are further updates. If you are concerned or need more information, students can contact the Student Wellness Service on 021 650 5620 or 021 650 1271 (after hours), while staff can contact 021 650 5685.