A woman arrives to queue for a food parcel from an aid organisation. Researchers say women who kept their jobs during lockdown have been forced to work fewer hours because of increased childcare responsibilities. Picture: African News Agency Archives (ANA)
A woman arrives to queue for a food parcel from an aid organisation. Researchers say women who kept their jobs during lockdown have been forced to work fewer hours because of increased childcare responsibilities. Picture: African News Agency Archives (ANA)

How Covid-19 lockdown has impacted on gender wage inequality

By Sihle Mlambo Time of article published Sep 30, 2020

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Johannesburg – The second wave of the National Income Dynamics Study (Nids) Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (Cram) has given more insight into how the gender wage inequality gap has widened in South Africa during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Since the end of March, South Africa has been under lockdown in a bid to quell the spread of the coronavirus, which has now infected over 670 000 people and claimed the lives of more than16 000 people.

In that period, unemployment has soared, with Statistics South Africa announcing on Tuesday that more than 2.2 million South Africans lost their jobs during the second quarter of the 2020/21 financial year.

On Wednesday, University of Cape Town researchers Robert Hill and Tim Kohler released a Nids-Cram second-wave paper titled Mind the Gap: Analysing the effects of South Africa’s national lockdown on gender wage inequality.

During the first wave, Nids-Cram had highlighted that out of the 3 million people who lost their livelihoods during the first quarter at the start of lockdown, 2 million of those affected were women.

“Unlike previous recessions where it has been observed that men have borne the brunt of the economic downturn, the Covid-19 ‘pandemic recession’ is likely to disproportionately and persistently impact women.

“In the context of South Africa, initial research has already shown that of the estimated 3 million fewer employed people in April relative to February 2020 as a result of the pandemic-induced national lockdown, two in every three were women,” the researchers said.

The researchers said the lockdown had been tougher on women who retained employment, as compared to men, with women working significantly fewer hours.

“The fact that hourly wage inequality did not change much, while monthly wage inequality did, suggests that there has been an adjustment of working hours among women that outweighs the change in working hours among men.

“Reasons for this could include women being less able to work from home, or that women have had to bear the brunt of increased childcare responsibilities during lockdown,” the report said.

The report also suggested that a greater number of the beneficiaries of the social relief of distress grant of R350 for the unemployed would be men, as women already claimed a sizeable majority of the child welfare grant and thus did not qualify for the unemployment grant.

The researchers said the government should seek to extend the unemployment grant beyond October.

“Policy which seeks to mitigate the adverse implications of such widening wage inequality ought to consider providing targeted income support to such workers at the bottom of the distribution. Several policy options are available.

“In their analysis of the Nids-Cram Wave 2 data, Köhler and Bhorat (2020) find that the distribution of the application for and personal and household-level receipt of the special Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant, despite not being means-tested, has been relatively pro-poor.

“However, the authors note that because other grant recipients are not eligible to apply for the grant, and because nearly 85% of all grant recipients are women, most recipients (two-thirds) of the Covid-19 SRD grant are men.

“Therefore, despite it being progressively targeted, this grant in its current form may not be appropriate in this context.

“However, considering the Child Support Grant is also progressively targeted and that about 98% of recipients (caregivers) are women, the pandemic-induced expansion of the grant may be an optimal mechanism to provide such income support.

“Policymakers ought to consider further extending this expansion of social assistance beyond October 2020, as this would provide low-earning women with much-needed monetary support to combat deepening levels of inter-gender inequality as a result of the national lockdown,” the report said.

They also suggested that the government could introduce state-subsidised childcare facilities at public schools as this would ensure that women could stay at work longer to provide for their children, while they said this could also result in desirable academic outcomes if the childcare facilities were accompanied by programmes for academic support.

“A second option open to policymakers is that of state-subsidised childcare. With schools reopening, female caregivers will have more time to engage in labour market activities, thus decreasing the monthly gender wage gap once again. However, in order to provide women with an opportunity to engage in the labour market as fully as possible, the state could provide after-school care for learners at public schools.

“If carefully rolled out, this type of intervention could assist in a number of spheres: not only would it free up time for women to adjust their working hours upwards once again, but if this after-school care were to provide food and academic support, then it may actively bolster academic outcomes for learners in the future,” the report said.


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