/ 6 September 2020

The pandemic’s effect is gendered

According to one recent study
Although two thirds of job losses were experienced by women, two thirds of the recipients of the R350 Covid-19 grant were men (John McCan/M&G)


The economic relief efforts aimed at alleviating the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have not been extended to the women who are most in need.

With Women’s Month just ended, themed “generation equality: realising women’s rights for an equal future”, this year’s commemoration was indeed ironic.

A national income dynamics study coronavirus rapid mobile survey revealed that three million people lost their jobs between the period of February and July 2020. Of these, two million were women.

This statistic highlights the gendered impact of the pandemic, which has placed an additional economic burden on women. This is the “double disadvantage” faced by women.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has repeatedly declared his solidarity in the fight against gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa. One would then assume that the government would take measures that deliberately and consciously address and seek to promote women’s wellbeing, now more than ever. Unfortunately, words such as “the urgency of achieving gender equality has never been greater than now” (as he said at the virtual Women’s Day commemoration) have not been matched with action.

A report presented by the South African Social Security Agency to the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) in June 2020 revealed that of the 3.25-million Covid-19 grants that were paid out until the end of June 2020, only 1.15-million of those were paid out to women.

Although two thirds of job losses were experienced by women, two thirds of the recipients of the R350 special Covid-19 social relief of distress grant were men. It is likely that these women receive child support grants, precluding them from qualifying for the Covid-19 relief grant, yet child support grants are intended to cater for children and not their mothers.

These statistics prove that although women have been the hardest hit by the pandemic, they are the least supported. Once again, the balance of scales are tipped in favour of men.

In a country where one in three women has experienced some form of physical violence, one wonders how many women have been left in harm’s way due to their exclusion from the relief grants. To a poor woman in a disadvantaged setting, R350 could mean the difference between paying her taxi fare to get away from her abuser and remaining in an abusive setting.

Millions of women participated in the informal economy prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. This included plying their trade in activities such as street-side vending and domestic work. These trades were affected by the lockdown restrictions that were implemented to assist in flattening the curve.

The Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme extended to employers/employees by the government to counter the effects of the lockdown on the economy, however, did not cater for those in the informal sector. Once again, women were hardest hit by this.

South Africa’s high GBV levels are attributable to a number of structural and socio-economic factors including economic dependency. Women’s economic empowerment in the fight against GBV cannot be overstated.

Government has already committed to improving women’s participation in the economy through policies such as the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act (PPPFA) which states that preferential procurement may be applied when contracting with persons that have previously been discriminated against on the basis of their gender. Government departments are supposed to procure 30% of their goods from SMMEs, co-operatives, townships and rural enterprises on the basis that these are owned mainly by previously disadvantaged groups or individuals, such as women.

Yet recent scandals clouding the procurement of personal protective equipment show that the government has a long way to go in implementing this act and regarding women as preferential suppliers. 

Women are also disadvantaged in the private sector. A PWC report on executive directors in the JSE shows that women executive directors earn 25% less than their male counterparts.

Even at high levels of corporate ranks, GBV still lashes women. The gender pay gap needs to be bridged to ensure uniformity in pay, regardless of one’s gender. Measures such as the ratification of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 190 on violence and harassment in the workplace will go a long way in stemming GBV in workplaces.

As South Africa buckles towards a post-Covid economy, the government must remember that economic empowerment is a key tool to fight the country’s GBV crisis. This needs more than words, paper policies and platitudes. This needs the government to deliver sustainable measures that address women’s economic empowerment.

It is time to count the cost, as the popular proverb counsels, by factoring in women’s economic empowerment in all national processes.

Nonsikelelo Ncube is an executive assistant at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.