College of Human Sciences

Invisible lives and missing voices examined

The Institute for Gender Studies at the University of South Africa held a seminar on 13 April 13 during which Professor Damaris Parsitau presented on the impact of Covid on women and girls and provided recommendations for putting women and girls at the centre of post-Covid-19 recovery and reconstruction.

Parsitau is an associate professor of Religion and Gender Studies at Egerton University in Kenya. She is also a professor extra-ordinary at the Institute of Gender Studies at the University of South Africa (Unisa), and the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice at the University of the Western Cape.

Prof Damaris Parsitau

Prof. Parsitau has worked in girls’ education spaces, women's empowerment, and gender equality spaces in the last one and a half decades. Her work is dedicated to strengthening women's empowerment, gender equality, and girls’ education as well as helping communities navigate and adapt to climate change. In her presentation titled - Invisible live, missing voices: putting women and girls at the centre of post-Covid 19 recoveries and recommendation, she stated that in every sphere of life from health to education, economy to social security and protection, to gender equality to agriculture and food security, Covid-19 has had and continues to have a devastating impact on all people globally, but especially women and girls. She outlined the impact Covid-19 has had on countries, especially in developing countries. She argued that Covid-19 provides African policymakers, governments, and all other stakeholders the opportunity not only for reflection but also to rebuild better and in a caring, humane, and sustainable manner. Her presentation outlined how the pandemic further exacerbated educational inequality for girls in Africa.  For Parsitau “[t]he truth of the matter is that educational inequality is a pre-existing condition that needs urgent attention.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on education disruption and loss of opportunity. Parsitau said that the pandemic led to school closures in many parts of the world and that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates that over 89% of the world’s student populations were out of school or university. According to Parsitau’s findings, this not only resulted in massive learning loss but also put many children at risk of other social and economic inequalities, such as a lack of adequate infrastructure. Poor connectivity and inadequate internet access disadvantage millions of African learners, which results in learners dropping out of school and engaging in sexual activities, leading to a high rate of teenage pregnancy.

South Africa was one of the highly impacted countries affected by Covid-19 and school closures.  Online learning brought various challenges whereas many parts of the country are regarded as poor and cannot afford to access online learning. Very few households have access to computers and the internet, denying learners to participate in the migration to online learning. Moreover, Parsitau highlighted that those learners living with the elderly got the motivation to do their schoolwork and stay in school from their teachers and daily school lives, so the closure of schools impacted them so badly that they saw no need to continue with school. In turn, the situation disadvantaged learners experienced during the period of lockdown led to young girls being exposed to sexual activities. Her statistical findings showed that Gauteng alone has recorded 60% teenage motherhoods ever since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic which shows an increase of 28% from the previous years. These statistics show that schools have been an important, safe, and protective environment for girls.

The pandemic has exposed a need for policy reflection and improvement in the living conditions of women and children, especially girls. While the government is trying to understand and find its way around the pandemic, women and children are suffering the worst. In her conclusion, Parsitau said that in the undertaking policy reflection and rebuilding better, African governments must not only consider the need to put women at the centre of post-Covid-19 recovery and reconstruction but also at the centre of governance because “economic growth cannot be realised without the active and intentional inclusion of women”.

Parsitau, in her presentation, gave us an idea of putting women and girls at the centre of post-Covid-19 recovery and reconstruction by revisiting policies and applying gender lenses to the recovery, and ensuring that they secure jobs and financial incentives for women and girls. girls. Creating opportunities for women in business will not only build their skills and capacities for gender equality, but also boost recovery and reconstruction. In the words of Malcolm X, when you educate a woman, you educate a whole nation.

* By Katlego Marema, Institute for Gender Studies, College of Human Sciences

Publish date: 2022/05/11