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Mangena: Women in Science Awards (06/08/2004)

6th August 2004


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Date: 06/08/2004
Source: Ministry of Science and Technology
Title: M Mangena: Women in Science Awards


Distinguished guests,
Eminent Scientists,
Ladies and Gentlemen -

The Women in Science Awards are recognition awards created to honour women scientists and their outstanding achievements in the sector. The awards have been designed to chart a new course for women in science, engineering and technology in parallel to that of the machine of scientific and technological advancement. The success of the nominees and the award winners today should serve as an inspiration to all, and provide an excellent example of how commitment, dedication and determination can transcend the glass ceiling often imposed on women by society.

Science, engineering and technology (SET) has in recent years taken centre stage in issues of global competitiveness. The wheels of scientific and technological change continue to accelerate at an astounding pace, thereby indicating that those who choose to ignore them will be left behind. To ensure that South Africa effectively and efficiently exploits this machine, and all it has to offer, we should not ignore the un-harnessed potential of 52% of our population - the women of South Africa.

Women's role in the development and dissemination of knowledge contributing to socio-economic development has been limited. Similarly, the contribution of outstanding women to scientific research has also not been fully recognised, resulting in women having inequitable access to research professions and opportunities. The lack of critical mass of prominent women scientists as role models has hampered not only public understanding of science, engineering and technology, but also the participation of women at all levels within the science system.

The Department will soon be launching a new publication entitled "Facts and Figures on the Participation of Women in SET at Higher Education Institutes and SET Institutes". This publication is the result of a large study that looked at the participation of women in public sector research on SET. It is the first of its kind in this country with respect to the type of information it contains. When this highly informative document becomes available, I encourage you to use it to give extra force to your initiatives to bring about gender equity in science, because although data does not solve the problem, it does highlight it.

Recently released results of the National Research and Development Survey indicate that in South Africa only 35,3% of our total scientific research population are women. When compared to Argentina where 49,3% of their total researchers are women, it is clear that the position of women researchers in our Science sector is not satisfactory. The 'Facts and Figures' brochure also highlights that women in South African tertiary institutions remain under-represented in the field of Science and Technology. Within higher education institutions, less than one third of academics with Doctoral degrees are women. In 2001, there were relatively few women in senior ranks within the higher education sector, despite marked improvements since 1992. Within the university sector in 2001, only 7% of female academics were Professors, compared to 26% of the male staff. Although there has been increased participation amongst Black women over the decade, in 2001 the race distribution of these women still reflected the legacy of apartheid, with White women comprising more than two-thirds of female academics and R&D personnel. In addition, in 2001, despite female students having been the majority at undergraduate levels, that is, 58%, they represented only 42% of the Masters and Doctoral students. In terms of publication outputs, between 1990 and 2001, half of all publishing female scientists held a Doctorate compared to more than two-thirds of the male scientists. Only 14% of female publishing scientists in the higher education sector were at the rank of professor compared to 44% of male scientists.

Between 1995 and 2001, women consistently received far fewer research grants and scholarships from the National Research Foundation than men. This can probably be attributed to women being in the minority of grant applicants. Thus, in 2001, women were the recipients of 21% of the research grants and 42,5% of the Masters and Doctoral scholarships. In terms of scientific rating, between 1996 and 2002, the vast majority of rated scientists (in all categories) in the Natural Sciences and Engineering were men. In 2002, women were under represented in all the rating categories but especially in categories A and B, which are restricted to established researchers. Within these categories, women only comprised 5% and 9%, respectively, of the rated researchers.

These figures clearly indicate the significant gender disparities that exist within the different levels of our education system, and tend to illustrate a common trend within the SET sector as a whole.

But this pattern of the lack of women in decision-making positions is not necessarily consistent throughout our sectors. Before 1994, women constituted only 2,7% of members of Parliament. In 1994, women won 27% of the seats in the National Assembly, and in the 1999 elections this figure increased to 30%. Women now constitute 32,8% of the National Assembly and 43% of Cabinet, which is the highest decision-making body in the country.

The active intervention by the President is proof that with greater encouragement and effort, women can achieve positions of leadership and be successful in traditionally male dominated arenas. I thus challenge all of you here tonight, in your personal and professional capacities, and the SET sector as a whole to emulate the efforts of President Mbeki and work towards elevating the role and position of women to that of decision makers.

Research and innovation within various science, engineering and technology fields can make great strides towards improving the quality of life, and providing wealth creation opportunities for women. It is thus essential for the collective minds within the SET sector to recognise and adopt an engendered research culture in order to ensure that the full spectrum of South Africa's human resources are effectively understood and empowered for the ultimate advancement of our society.

The annual Women in Science Awards captures the vision encapsulated in the National Research and Development Strategy, which is the enhancement of our citizens


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