Diary Page: Gender roles and the lockdown

The lockdown has changed the way many function on a daily basis, in their home and in their community. We asked our diarists whether the lockdown changed the roles different genders play in their household or in the broader community. We probed to find out if there were changes in gender relations in regards to who makes household decisions, leads the community, provides for the household, or looks after children.

No change

Several of our respondents maintained that there had been no change in the way their homes, or wider community, was managed. Existing gender dynamics continued to manifest as they always had. Papama from Khayelitsha explained that there had been no changes ‘in terms of gender roles…duties… in my household. Everyone does what needs to be done at the right time, regardless of gender roles…I do not think that there have been changes in my community as well’.  Judy from Newlands agrees, that ‘gender roles remain in place in this household’ and ‘my sense is that is the same, generally speaking, in the broader community too‘.

‘No it has not…I still see lot of men leading in my community women being deputised or given secretary positions, things are still the same in terms of gender roles’. Esethu, Khayelitsha

‘So the lockdown hasnt changed any roles in my community. Given that my community is seen as individualistic, everyone has their own roles in their own household. Its not uncommon for males and females to have interchangeable roles even without the lockdown’. Riyaaz, Primrose Park

Gender roles have shifted during the lockdown

Many of our respondents noted that the lockdown had changed the way men and women defined their roles, in both the home and in relation to community leadership roles. Andile, a diarist from Khayelitsha explained that things had changed for him during lockdown, ‘I’ve been looking out for kids and a lot of cleaning & cooking since my partner is an essential worker’. Bonga, another diarist from Khayelitsha agrees, gender roles have changed, ‘a lot. I’m one who is always out going to buy groceries because it’s not safe for my partner and child to be going outI also get to help my partner with chores sweeping and cleaning the house whilst she natures the child.’

‘Yes the gender roles have changed both in my household and community…the household chores are now done by everyone because we believe that hygiene is for everyone.’ Nomaxabiso, Khayelitsha

‘Yes it did …I did not spend lot of time with my child but know we spend more time together…I spend more time…cooking…The lockdown has made more of us responsible in many things we did take care’ Patsie,  Khayelitsha

 ‘Our previous community leaders where mostly male. But since the shift of these level, the male previously leaders have been changed, now there is mostly female leaders that are making decisions for my community’. Nathi, Imizamo yethu

China from Khayelitsha notes that the lockdown may have changed the power balance between women and men: [men] do not have [as much] power [as] before. Because they used to make decisions without consulting anyone in the house…And even in the community they used to be the ones with the male voices. But I think the lockdown has changed…They are taking a backseat now maybe they feel powerless as male…there are things which have changed people’s roles also, maybe others feel small that no they don’t bring extra income or others do not get enough money as before, maybe that could be the reason. So I cannot put my finger on what exactly it is. But there is a change, in some ways.  


Who looked after children during the lockdown emerged as a strong theme in our diary entries. Childcare is one area that has been significantly affected by lockdown as schools and day-care centres are closed. A few diarists explained that men were now stepping into childcare roles. Sivuyile, from Khayelitsha explained that, ‘because now children are at home we have to take turns looking after them‘. Lwando from Imizamo Yethu agreed that ‘As for the kids, everyone looks after them within the household and is based on what are you doing at that exact moment as we are all based at home‘.

‘Yes the lockdown has changed the roles of different genders in our house … people [professional carers] don’t really look after children anymore since the lockdown has started. And basically only the family looks after the kids because its kindof safer than sending your child to a creche or school’. Naema, Houtbay

‘My husband has been great with helping with childcare and homeschooling up until now. So that’s a change I guess (not that we’ve ever had to homeschool before so I don’t really have a reference norm)’. Judy, Newlands

A number of diarists noted, however, that the responsibility for child-care still rested with the women of the house. Mpho in Seapoint is ‘looking after my own kids now because there are no work my husband is working only 3 days n week and the schools are still close for the kids’. In some cases, childcare may have been paid work, but that source of income has fallen away. Anonymous in Hangberg explains: ‘I’m looking after my grand daughter n after another child but I’m not getting paid for looking after them before I use to look after children n got paid but that all stopped’.


Several diarists explained that the traditional role of who the breadwinner was in the family had changed, and that this was shifting gender relations. Oscar from ShukuShukuma explained that ‘some in my community its changes de women are working and men stays at home’.  Samkelo from Imizamo Yethu agreed that ‘Now that its lock-down things have shifted as we are not financially stable but…she is getting paid even in this lock-down. She is not under pressure like myself’.

‘The men in my community and my Uncle in my house are not the breadwinners anymore, the women are now Makin ends meet to provide for their families and some other men are spending a lot of time with their children to due this Pandemic’. Kungo.M, ShukuShukuma

‘Lock down has affected some by means of unemployment  some fathers are unemployed  which leaves mothers  to now pay the bill make sure there is electricity make sure that essentials are bought eg.daily bread and food that all of that and more has now become…It is hectic and weigh a ton on just one partner’. Fadwah, Hangberg

A ‘breadwinner’ staying at home also had an impact on community dynamics. Assie in Khayelitsha explained that ‘in my community I see that more man are involved in meetings then before because most of them are bread winners and are always at work now that they have nothing to do but be at home they interact with community a lot’

Burden falls on women

Many of diarists, both women and men, noted that during lockdown the burden of managing the home, and often community dynamics too, fell on women. For some this was perpetuating the status quo. Natalie in Newlands explained that ‘Women still seem to be doing the majority of the housework and childcare for the friends/families that I know. In my household, my husband is helping more now with cleaning, but I still do all the shopping/cooking/childcare and schoolwork‘. Olwethu in Imizamo Yethu agreed that ‘Nothing has changed it’s still the same way it was before. The women are still running the household and doing all the house chores‘.

For others, such as Melody in Newlands, women had assumed even more responsibilities during lockdown: ‘The school work and house chores have become more whilst many are still working. I know men are stepping up and helping but very often they are at work or have “more important” jobs’.

Our diarists raised the responsibility this places on women. Judy explains how she has ‘still been cooking most of the meals and doing most of the cleaning. My husband returned to his workplace today so homeschooling falls on me and my work remains on ice‘.

‘Currently In my community the woman are the ones who are…providing for the community… who orgnanises food parcels for the whole community… who makes sure that children are safe and well feed…the woman are really are taking up the fighting in my community’. Nathi, Imizamo Yethu

‘it was very clear from my parents view or rather my father’s patriarchal view that women ought to be cleaning…The lock down made me realize that traditional mindset are hard to change…enforcing gender roles in this day and age, honestly feels so wrong…I have heard of plenty of women in my area having to do things for their men or household which is ridiculous to the point where, abuse is at play. When it comes to kids, I have seen many women having to take the lead as a result leading to even more strain on the mother figure’. Nicole, Lavender Hill


What are the underlying reasons for why some women have felt more empowered during lockdown, while others more oppressed?

Where women have become more empowered, will this lead to improved long term equality?


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