Twelve months of Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions have set the march for equality in the workplace by SA’s women back by more than 36 years, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

While the country scores high in terms of the political emancipation of women, it lags behind when it comes to economic integration.

A WEF report has found that Covid-19 lockdowns and a push towards digitalisation have hit industries employing women hard, resulting in a widening of gender pay gaps.

The survey comes amid increased pressure on companies to look to their social responsibilities during Covid-19, with a report from PwC in late 2020 finding that women account for less than a fifth of executive directors in JSE-listed companies, at 14%.

SA ranks 14th in in political empowerment, 10th in the percentage of women in parliament, and 12th in the percentage of women in ministerial positions. However, it ranks 92nd in economic participation and opportunity, and 131st for wage equality for similar work, where the gender gap is still 49.6%. 

According to the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2021, closing the gap will now take 135.6 years, compared to an estimated 99.5 years at the publication of the previous report.

Some industries have seen notable declines in women hired in senior management positions, including retail, travel and education, while women also appear less likely to pursue promotions or pay raises as Covid-19 shakes up the world of work.

Women with children in the household were more likely than men to report decreased productivity and higher stress from a shift to working from home (WFH), on average increasing the amount time spent on childcare more than men, the WEF said.

The report gathers statistics from international organisations and executives, using a score of zero to 100, which reflects in percentage terms how far the pay gap has closed. In 2021, it fell 0.6 percentage points to 68.1%, while SA slipped one position to 18th, with an index score of 78.1% — little changed year on year.

The report benchmarked 156 countries, with the index covering four dimensions: economic participation and opportunity; health and survival; educational attainment; and political empowerment. The index was first introduced in 2006.

Geographically, the global top 10 continues to be dominated by Nordic countries, with Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden in the top five.

Namibia and Rwanda are the only African countries represented in the top 10, at 6th and 7th, respectively.

The WEF said in its report there needed to be a focus on ensuring gender parity as economies recovery from Covid-19, including additional investment in the care sector — including equitable access to care leave for men and women.

There also needed to be focus on effective mid-career reskilling policies, combined with managerial practices that embedded sound, unbiased hiring and promotion practices.

The recovery also requires a proactive focus on overcoming occupational segregation by gender, such as for previously male-dominated occupations, such as IT, which are growing industries.


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