Not only has the Covid-19 pandemic put significant strain on the global economy and public health systems, but it also contributed to greater inequality and discrimination against women.
The North-West University’s (NWU‘s) School of Social Sciences recently hosted a webinar titled “The unsung heroes: Women bearing the burden of Covid-19” to explore the challenges women face as a result of the pandemic.
The talk featured female activists, including Sphiwe Kabini, NWU alumna and strategy analyst at Nedbank, Onica Makwakwa, director of Wise 4 Afrika, and the NWU’s Dr Jess Auerbach, senior lecturer in social anthropology.
Sphiwe Kabini, who spoke about the economic disenfranchisement of women due to Covid-19, noted that, as a result of the pandemic, women are facing healthcare and financial crises. She said the majority of people who were affected by layoffs due to the pandemic were women, and that they are facing increased expectations and demands as caregivers despite diminished income due to government-imposed lockdown measures.
“Women carry most of the household burden, yet they are overlooked in the economy. When you take the economic power from women, you deprive the next generation of economic freedom,” she said.
She added that society needs to be more intentional about gender equality, including growing the female economy, supporting small, medium and micro-enterprises led by women, and encouraging programmes that promote gender equality.
Another panellist, Onica Makwakwa, talked about the pillars of the National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide. She explored how the Covid-19 pandemic had led to an increase in gender-based violence, and how this affected violence-tolerance levels.
“We need to relook our TV programmes and the normalisation of violence - most of these promote and teach that violence is the only option,” she added.
Onica also called for the implementation, adoption and enforcement of transformative laws and policies, and the appropriate distribution of resources to create an inclusive economy that will empower women.
Exploring how women have been mentally impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Auerbach spoke about mental health during this time of uncertainty.
Being the author of the book, Archives of Kindness, which chronicles acts of kindness during the pandemic, she shared some of these stories of hope and how hearing about these acts of kindness helped her.