COVID-19 exposes gender inequality beyond pay gap

South African Reward Association

18 February 2021

COVID-19 exposes gender inequality beyond pay gap

The National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) is a study tracking income, employment and welfare in South Africa. The report reveals that women have been hardest hit by the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns.

“Although survival and saving jobs is paramount, equal pay initiatives within organisations have not been forgotten,” says Dr Mark Bussin, Master Reward Specialists and Executive Committee Member of the South African Reward Association (SARA). “However, we need equity programmes that extend beyond the enterprise.”

The current economic slump has affected women so badly, it has been dubbed the “shecession”.

Job losses

The NDIS-CRAM survey reports that, of the three million jobs lost between February and April 2020, two million had been held by women. Between April and June 2020, employment increased by 3.2% (220,000 jobs) for women and 3.5% (320,000 jobs) for men. Yet, in June 2020, women remained well behind men in returning to pre-COVID employment levels.

Income support

According to the study, 57% of those unemployed in June 2020 were women. However, they accounted for only 41% of TERS/UIF-TERS beneficiaries and only 34% of those were paid the Social Relief of Distress Grant (SRDG) in that month.


The report suggests a number of contributing factors to the high level of unemployment among women. For one, many industries with high female employee counts were forced to reduce staff during the lockdown. These include childcare, personal grooming and hospitality. Another is their being employed in jobs where working from home is not possible or not being able to work the same hours due to childcare needs.


Women often bear the greater share of childcare and healthcare responsibilities in the family. After early childhood development services and schools closed under lockdown, many may have been unable to work effectively while caring for their family. Due to divorce, women are also more likely to live with children than men are. In the report, 67% of women and only 25% of men reported they were looking after children themselves.

Lower earners

With no chance of daycare, many families had to decide which parent would leave their job to take care of their children. Since women typically earn less than men, they are the obvious candidates. This situation is unfortunately a result of existing inequality in pay between genders.

Within the enterprise

Although the study acknowledged a large difference between male and female incomes before February 2020, it measured no significant increase in the gap between then and June 2020. “In my view, the pay gap has not worsened because of COVID. It is still around and still present at the same levels as before,” says Bussin.


The NDIS-CRAM study suggests that one possible solution is state-subsidised childcare at reopened schools. This will help women to increase their work hours and return to their previous earning potential.

In addition, Bussin advises that organisations also need to do due diligence internally. “All organisations should conduct regular, thorough audits of all remuneration and HR practices to make sure that no poor practices or discrimination have crept in,” he says.


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