The EPWP in the social sector: Valuing or de-valuing 'women's work'?

Posted on November 17, 2015

On Friday, 6 November 2015, Prof Christi van der Westhuizen from the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender at the University of Pretoria (UP), hosted a seminar on the South African government's Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). The topic was ‘The Expanded Public Works Programme in the social sector: Valuing or de-valuing ‘women's work’?’ The event took place at the University’s Hatfield Campus and was attended by several senior government officials, including the Deputy Minister of Public Works, Jeremy Cronin.

The proceedings were opened by Prof Anton Ströh, Vice Principal: Institutional Planning, and served as the launch of new research in the form in a publication, funded by the Heinrich Boell Stiftung. The discussant was Prof Andries Bezuidenhout, co-author of Grounding globalisation: Labour in the age of insecurity and associate professor in the Department of Sociology at UP. Three research papers exploring the gender division of labour in relation to the EPWP and work insecurity were presented at the event.

The EPWP is a key government initiative that seeks to contribute to the South African government’s policy priorities in terms of decent work and sustainable livelihoods, education, health, rural development, food security and land reform. Against the background of growing inequality and high levels of poverty and unemployment, which disproportionately affect black women, the EPWP was instituted in 2004/5 to alleviate joblessness with labour-intensive work opportunities. Initially it was envisioned that 60% of beneficiaries of the programme’s short-term, low-paying jobs (such as care work in the social sector – a sector not normally included in such programmes) would be women, but this was later reduced to 55%. The research was conducted on the gender dimension of the EPWP, and sought to address the question of whether the inclusion of a sector in which women predominate contributes towards the eradication of racialised gender inequality and iniquity in post-apartheid South Africa.

Prof Van der Westhuizen presented her paper titled, ‘The 20 year march to precarious labour for poor women: Public works employment from the RDP to the NDP’, after which Lisa Vetten, from the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) at the University of Witwatersrand, presented a paper titled, ‘Who cares? Post-rape services and the Expanded Public Works Programme in South Africa’. Penny Parenzee from On Par Development Consultancy then presented a paper titled, ‘Early Childhood Development and the EPWP: Implications for poor women and their families’.

The publication, titled Who cares? South Africa's Expanded Public Works Programme in the social sector and its impact on women, will soon be available for download from


- Author Ansa Heyl

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