RESEARCH NOTE CONFIRMS THE ECONOMIC VULERNABILITY OF WOMEN AND YOUTH IN SOUTH AFRICA
The Gender Equality Wellness and Leadership (GEWAL) Centre of the Motsepe Foundation, through its newly formed Research Unit, released a note examining the impact of Covid-19 on women in South Africa’s labour market. In a country where consistent gains toward gender parity have been made, the report underlines that in this disruptive period historically disadvantaged women experienced the harshest economic outcomes. The research note Women in a Pandemic: An Eighteen Month Perspective of COVID-19 and Women’s Labour Market Vulnerability in South Africa paints a stark picture of women’s economic opportunity, underscoring the importance of gender inclusion.
Using the latest available information from Stats SA, the note finds that overall women lost more jobs during the pandemic period from March 2020 to September 2021, and their unequal access to opportunity in the labour market is a trend that will likely continue until 2030 without active measures to address job creation and inclusion simultaneously.
A total of 2.1 million jobs were lost and more than half, or 51% of these jobs were held by women. Proportionately, 15% of all jobs held by women were lost, compared to 11% of all jobs held by men.
This vulnerability is worsened when considering historically disadvantaged women, who had a 16% chance of losing their job, and it is compounded even further for historically disadvantaged young women (aged 15-34) who had a more than 1-in-4 chance (or 27% chance) of losing their job.
Although historically disadvantaged young people only accounted for 32% of all jobs in March 2020, they accounted for a startling 57% of all jobs lost.
More men and women exited the labour market and this has prevented larger increases in the unemployment rate for the meantime. But with lacklustre and/or excessively capital-intensive growth the narrow unemployment rate is likely to brush up against 40%.
The report recommends improved access to quality, affordable higher education. With this the case is made for delaying the entry of young people into the labour market, to buy time for job creation and to ensure that the youth are entering the labour market more skilled and hopefully more productive.
“South Africa, in terms of global comparisons, fairs well in terms of efforts to advance gender parity in educational attainment and political participation. But this is not so with regards to the representation of women in business leadership positions. The pandemic has eroded the gains made in gender equality and in a crisis we cannot afford to dismiss efforts relating to inclusion,” said Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, Cofounder and CEO of the Motsepe Foundation. “It is my hope that this research, together with our upcoming Women’s Summit, will recalibrate our priorities to see that gender inclusion and economic growth cannot be attained in isolation.”
The occupations identified as most at risk during this period were service and sales workers, craft and related trades workers, and elementary occupations, where a combined 60% of all job losses were concentrated. In each of these three categories, job losses amongst women were significantly more pronounced than for men. For example, amongst service and sales workers, 30% of women lost their jobs compared to 15% of men.
It is not the case for these occupations that women were more represented in them at the outset than men, but rather that they were more likely to lose their jobs, even though there do not appear
to be large gender-based differences in age distributions or educational attainments in these bands that could account for the difference.
“These results suggest that women remain inherently more vulnerable in many occupations than men, said Len Verwey, Head of the Research Unit at the Motsepe Foundation.
However, even with higher and more inclusive growth, and measures which encourage delayed labour market entry, South Africa is almost certain to still confront an unemployment crisis, with 8 million or more narrowly unemployed people up to 2030. This reality cannot be wished away, and implies that more serious consideration should be given to direct support measures such as income transfers in addition to looking at other job creation opportunities such as the social economy.
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