Previous economic downturns such as the recent 2008-2009 global financial crisis have tended to disproportionately affect male employment due to greater contractions in industries typically filled by men (e.g. manufacturing). However, the expected recession triggered by the current COVID-19 pandemic could lead to worse labour market outcomes for women, exacerbating gender inequality in the labour market. Through an occupational sorting lens, this study highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic might derail the progress made by women in the South African labour market. We utilize occupational context data from the O*NET Survey (US Department of Labour) to characterize COVID-19 risk in two key ways: work that is physically proximate enough to make infection likely, and work that requires regular exposure to infectious disease. These two measures of occupational work context are then merged with the Post-Apartheid Labour Market series (PALMS) to describe the distribution of risk in South Africa shortly before the pandemic. We find that although similar proportions of men and women work in proximate occupations, women are 16 percentage points more likely to be exposed to infectious diseases in their jobs due to their clustering in occupations like domestic work, personal care, nursing, and clerking. Our results suggest that the high interpersonal nature of women’s work coupled by the fact that they still carry out a larger share of child care puts them at a higher disadvantage relative to men in terms of income or job loss as a result of COVID-19. Finally, that men often do dangerous work (e.g. mining) is an often-invoked justification for the gender wage gap. However, the frontline response to COVID-19 has further shone a light on how the labour market undervalues the type of risky work often carried out by women given women are over-represented in health professional, retail shop clerk and personal care work occupations.