COVID-19, lockdowns and gender in South Africa

Posted on September 3, 2021

NIDS-CRAM finds that black women bear the harshest economic brunt

The recent National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) released key insights about the disparate economic experiences people are having along gender lines. While we’re collectively experiencing the devastating economic, social and health impacts of the pandemic, NIDS-CRAM shows that we are not all in the same boat. We may be in the same storm, but some are in yachts, while others have no boats at all.

Here are the top takeouts from the NIDS-CRAM report, as they relate to the female experience in South Africa.

What is the NIDS-CRAM survey?

The NIDS-CRAM is a national survey which gathers responses from the same 28,000 South Africans every few months. Respondents are asked a variety of questions focused on their income, employment, household welfare, and receipt of grants. They are also asked questions relating to their knowledge and behaviour around COVID-19. The power of the NIDS-CRAM lies in its ability to capture snapshots of the South African experience, and to therefore inform policy.


Men’s employment rates have recovered faster than women’s

Espi et al. (2021) found that men had a higher employment-to-population ratio in March 2021 relative to February 2020, whereas women’s ratio declined slightly. Echoing similar insights, Casale and Shepherd (2021) stated that men’s employment and working hours in March 2021 were back to pre-COVID levels while women’s employment and working hours remained below the February 2020 baseline figures.[1]

The recent Quarterly Labour Force Survey Q2:2021, revealed that women are less likely to be in paid employment than men, with the official unemployment rate for men being 32.4% in comparison to the official unemployment rate for women, which is 36.4%.


Black women are still the most vulnerable demographic

Comparing official unemployment among women of different races, black women are the most vulnerable in terms of unemployment. The category reported a 41% official unemployment rate, juxtaposed against white women, who have an 8.2% unemployment rate. The unemployment rate among coloured women was 29.9%, and 22.4% for Indian/Asian women.


Women’s households are running out of money, fast

In March 2021, 39% of women reported that their households had run out of money to buy food, compared to 31% of men. Devastatingly, 17% of women living with children reported a child in the household had gone hungry in the seven days prior to the NIDS-CRAM interview, compared to 11% of men living with children.


An unexpected consequence: gender inequality exacerbated

The numbers above suggest that the pandemic has resulted in a rise in gender inequality in South Africa, undoing some of the gains of the previous two decades.

According to the United Nations, pre-pandemic, women around the world were performing an average of 4.1 hours of unpaid domestic work at home per day, while men performed an average of 1.7 per day. Casale and Shepherd (2021) found that in South Africa, twice as many women as men reported that childcare responsibilities in June 2020 (when most schools and early childhood development centres were closed) affected their ability to work or search for work.

Forbes reported that women make 90% of household finance decisions, and according to Claire Costello, managing director of Philanthropic Solutions at Bank of America, 90% of the money women earn is reinvested into their families.

We need to get women into jobs now

Employing more women in SA is paramount to the socio-economic success of our country. With 41.8% of SA households being female-led, the continued marginalisation of women in employment will have detrimental effects on their families and communities, for generations to come.

YES and its partners are creating opportunities for women to break the gender inequality cycle. 60% of YES Youth are women, and 90.7% of YES Youth have dependents. Through YES, women are a placed in a range of relevant and future-proof roles from droning and 3D printing to aquaponic farming and micro-manufacturing. #JointheMovement, creating opportunities for women is important now, more than ever.

- Say YES: create that critical chance at the workforce for women and watch as the next generation thrives.

- Calculate your YES target.


-  Forbes:
Germano, M. (2020). “How women change the world with their money choices”.

- NIDS-CRAM reports:
Casale, D., & Shepherd, D. (2021). “The gendered effects of the Covid-19 crisis and ongoing lockdown in South Africa: Evidence from NIDS-CRAM Waves 1-5”.
Espi, G., Ranchhod, V., & Leibbrandt, M. (2021). “Age, employment and labour force participation outcomes in COVID-era South Africa”.
Daniels, R.C., Ingle, K., & Brophy, T. (2021). “Labour market uncertainty & dynamics in the era of Covid-19: What we’ve learnt from NIDS-CRAM, the Quarterly  Labour    Force Survey and the ILO’s Covid-19 Guidance for labour statistics  data collection”.
Turok, I. & Visagie, J. (2021). “Driven further apart by the pandemic? Contrasting impacts of COVID-19 on people and places”.

 - Statistics South Africa:
“Quarterly Labour Force Survey Q2:2021.”

- Statista
“Distribution of households headed by females in South Africa in 2019, by province.”

- The United Nations:
“COVID-19 and its economic toll on women: The story behind the numbers.”
[1] It is important to note here that the NIDS-CRAM sample size is relatively small, where the same 28,000 South African adults are surveyed periodically. In this sample, respondents reported employment levels for men that were back to pre-COVID levels, however, these statistics should be read in conjunction with the Quarterly Labour Force Survey and the Quarterly Employment Survey.