Gender gap widening even further due to effects of Covid-19 on women, survey finds

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Covid-19 and its impact on the economy has left many women unemployed.
Covid-19 and its impact on the economy has left many women unemployed.
  • Women have been the most hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. 
  • Wits Associate Professor Daniela Casale says a NIDS-CRAM survey found they lost their jobs at a higher rate than men during the start of the lockdown. 
  • Women were also faced with another challenge of taking care of their children, after schools closed, which added to their struggle. 

The gender gap is widening even further due to the effects of Covid-19 on women, a survey has found.

This is what University of Witwatersrand Associate Professor Daniela Casale presented on Tuesday during a webinar hosted by the Department of Science and Innovation-National Research Foundation Centre of Food Security. 

The theme of the webinar, titled "Leave no one behind: How Covid-19 impacted on highly vulnerable groups", touched on how women were less likely than men to participate in the labour market and the fact they worked in "different kinds of jobs" prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. 

Unpacking the gender effects of the pandemic since it hit South African shores in March, which resulted in a nationwide lockdown, Casale presented findings from the National Income Dynamics Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) and discussed the gender effects of the lockdown and its implications for children. 

EXPLAINER | Why Covid-19 is called a pandemic and why it’s not just the typical flu

The survey, which Casale conducted with colleague Dori Posel, had 7 074 adults participating and was done between May and June and themed around how the first month of lockdown in April had affected the individuals.

Casale said based on Wave 1 of NIDS-CRAM, both men and women were severely affected, but were felt more by women. 

"What's happened as a result of the crisis is that gender gaps have increased. And of course, this has implications not just for women but for their households and particularly of interest to this group, for their children, especially because women are more likely to be caring for children in South Africa physically and financially often," she added. 

Among the key findings of the survey were that job losses were much higher among women as opposed to men, with women having already accounted for just under half of employment, around 47%. 

Between February and April 2020, women accounted for two thirds (66%) of net job losses, Casale said, adding women who could least afford it and were vulnerable, were the most affected. 

Women were also affected more by having to care for children after schools had to close due to the spread of the virus, she added, saying women were more likely to be living with children than men the survey had found. 

Casale said what was also surprising from the findings, was the number of extra hours women were spending with children. She added 58% of women living with children said they were spending four additional hours with children as compared to 43% of men.

The associate professor said because women were most likely to be living with children, this resulted in an increased vulnerability among the kids. 

"So already, based on our Wave 1 of NIDS-CRAM survey, we found that almost half of women said their households had run out of money to buy food in April and 17% of the women said a child had gone hungry in the past seven days."

Casale added they would track what had been happening, as the economy was being reopened and with Level 2 lockdown in effect.

University of Free State lecturer Dr Chantell Witten, who was also part of the panel, made a presentation on the food and nutrition needs of pregnant and breastfeeding women.

ALSO READ | Covid-19 misinformation continues to fuel negative stigma in South Africa

She said women were still the safest environment for children, and therefore nutrition was important for them. 

Presenting on the life course nutrition profile during and before the pandemic, Witten said pre-Covid-19, there was an increase in child stunting and dietary patterns in children were poor to low in variety and nutrient density.

During the pandemic, however, there was speculation of increased severe acute malnutrition, increased food poverty and hunger; and a decrease in the access to routine health services. 

Witten said some of the proposed interventions, in addition to the call for a universal basic income grant, was that there needed to be macroeconomic food policies that would control food prices, and to introduce a fixed priced nutrient-dense food basket in addition to the grant. 

"If we want to strengthen infant and young child feeding, we need to support mothers at the home level, in communities and certainly in the workplace," she added.

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