Dr Sabie Surtee, Director: HERS-SA
HERSA-SA Board members
Prof. Karen Esler, HERS-SA Alumni
Prof. Najma Moosa, HERS-SA Alumni
Dr Daisy Selematsela, HERS-SA Alumni
Distinguished guests, and
Ladies and gentleman
Thank you for inviting me. Let me begin by congratulating Higher Education Resource Services Academy (HERS-SA) for its visionary and pioneering work in supporting women in higher education in South Africa.
This gathering comes just a few days after National Women's Month, during which we recognised and rewarded yet another group of outstanding female scientists and researchers as part of my department's annual Women in Science Awards event.
As you know, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa enjoins us all to work towards the attainment of a number of rights for our people, one of which is gender equality.
While there are various legislative and policy measures and institutional mechanisms intended to give effect to our constitution, we still have some way to go in creating a society in which women (and other groups) are not impeded in their professional progress by gender discrimination.
It is for this reason that the presence and role of bodies like HERS-SA continues to be important. The HERS, of which I am an alumnus, has always been a community of doers.
A great deal of work remains to be done in the higher education sector. The traditional social stereotypes that influence women’s progress in higher education remain in place and require dedicated and strategic attention.
Decades of struggle by women intellectuals have shown that focussed and well-crafted joint strategies are the best means of reversing the discrimination that continues to be a part of higher education.
To help us understand the complexity of gender inequality and how it manifests itself, particularly in higher education, allow me to share a few statistical observations with you.
The overall enrolment and graduation numbers for women have been steadily increasing over the past 10 years.
For instance, at undergraduate and honours levels, women are in a clear majority for total enrolments and graduations. In 2009, six out ten of all enrolled undergraduate students and six out ten of all honours students were women, while during the same period women made up six out ten of all first degree graduates and six out of ten of all honours graduates.
Between 2001 and 2009 women enrolments at PhD level increased from three to four out of ten of total enrolments, and women graduations increased from three to four. What is worrying, though, is that while the number of women at master's and PhD levels continues to increase, women are still in the minority in terms of both enrolments and graduations.
With regard to the number of black women across the pipeline, over the past five years black women have been the majority - ahead of white women - in enrolments and graduations at both undergraduate and honours levels.
Yet the number of women declines as one moves up the academic ladder.
So the issue of advancement of gender equity for women working in academia cannot be isolated from the bigger issue of the entire human capital pipeline.
In response to this challenge, the National Research Foundation deliberately seeks not only to increase the number of productive researchers but also to ensure that their race, gender and age profile is representative of the general population. This we do by strengthening support for emerging researchers through increased investment in the Thuthuka programme, with a particular focus on young, black women, and by intervening to fast-track the completion of doctoral degrees by academic staff.
The task of building a more equal society through targeted interventions aimed at gender equality is a daunting one and, in addition to the legislative and institutional mechanisms in place, there is a need for all role players to ensure that more women are aware of these opportunities so that more women can take advantage of them.
This will require all role players to intensify their advocacy efforts. HERS-SA provides us with a dedicated institution for addressing strategic development of women for higher education leadership. A double agenda confronts all of us. Developing women in academia for leadership today and developing young women for leadership in higher education in future.
I hope that this meeting will devote some time to discussing how we will sustain HERS-SA and ensure that it continues to play a role in reversing gender discrimination.
My department is studying a set of policy proposals from the womens sub-committee of the National Advisory Council on Innovation. The recommendations specifically target African women in regard to funding, advice desks, and lifting of research age limits.
I believe they are worthy of consideration and I will indicate my response in the next few months.