Easing the lockdown restrictions has not made life simpler for women like Khumbulile Thabethe. A single mother of three from Umlazi in Durban, she worked as a cleaner via an agency. To supplement her income, she commuted into the city by train everyday to sell health product. Then, South Africa went into lockdown in March.
“The lockdown really affected me because trains stopped operating, which meant that I could no longer sell my products to supplement my income. When level five started, we were only allowed to travel after seven weeks. I could not go home to see my children.”
Now that the country is under level 2 of the lockdown, her situation has worsened.
“Now that we are able to commute daily, I have to spend R1500 out of the 2500 salary that I receive on a bus fare. I couldn’t even buy clothes or learning material for my children and now I am even using some of the child support grant money received by my youngest child to pay for my other daughter’s transport fare. The lockdown has really affected me, I am struggling,” she adds.
Thabethe’s story is one of many women. A socio-economic impact assessment by the United Nations Development Programme found that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected female-headed households the worst. The study found that female households were more likely to fall into poverty, as were black South Africans.
The study is part of the UN’s initiatives to support South Africa during the pandemic. Researchers surveyed South Africans across race and ethnicity, via SMS, email and telephone between April 14-26 in the early stages of lockdown, and again from 25 May to 3 June, during level three of lockdown. They also used existing surveys, like the National Income Dynamic Study. They created models of what the country could look like at the best and worst case scenarios, and in most scenarios, black women are worst affected.
Women bear the brunt
“Women, particularly in the poorest female-headed households, disproportionately bear the brunt of the impact of COVID-19,” the study show. In an optimistic scenario, 117 000 women compared to about 69,000 men fell below the lower poverty line. In this scenario, 264 510 households will fall into poverty.
Households not formally regarded as living in poverty two years ago have dipped below the poverty line. The majority of these are female-headed households. Homes headed by women with lower education levels and who worked in the informal sector, like Thabethe were especially vulnerable.
According to Nardos Bekele-Thomas, the UN resident coordinator in South Africa, the study confirms that women still bear the brunt of poverty and inequality. Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma echoed this.
“The face of poverty and inequality in our country continues to be that of a rural, township African woman, sometimes with a baby on her back. Women are the worst losers in this pandemic. Stats SA informs us that of the three million jobs lost, two million of those are women. They’ve also lost up to 75% of income in the informal sector, this despite them earning 30% less than men,” says Dlamini-Zuma.
Households falling into poverty
During the pandemic, the food poverty line, the minimum needed to buy necessities, has dipped to R531earned per month compared to R758 per month per per person in 2017.
“The virus has confirmed that South Africa continues on the path of two economies with a lot of Africans and females having limited access to quality basic services,” says Dlamini-Zuma.
The study shows that at least 264 510 more households could fall into poverty. In households where employed family members are forced to move from the formal to the informal sector, more than half of these will be in poverty once government’s Covid-19 relief grant expires.
Already, semi-and unskilled workers who earn too much to qualify for ordinary social assistance are the hardest hit. More than a third (34%) of households are likely to exit the middle class into vulnerability. Again, households headed by women are more vulnerable. The study warns that relief efforts must be more targeted.
South Africa’s economy is expected to shrink by between 5.1% and at worst 7.9%. The UN study estimates that at least 47,000 people have lost their jobs. At worst, the number could nearly double, with the study estimating that more than 80,000 people may be without jobs thanks to the lockdown. The UN study shows that it could take five years to regain already dismal 2019 economic levels. – Health-e News