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SA: Pandor: Address by the Minister of Science and Technology, at the fourth International Union of Pure and Applied Physics women in physics conference, Stellenbosch (05/04/2011)

5th April 2011


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Date: 05/04/2011
Source: The Department of Science and Technology
Title: SA: Pandor: Address by the Minister of Science and Technology, at the fourth International Union of Pure and Applied Physics women in physics conference, Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch Executive Mayor, Alderman Jooste


Dr Youngah Park, Member of Parliament, Korea

Prof Cecilia Jarlskog, IUPAP President-Elect,


Prof (Dame) Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Acting President of the Institute of Physics, UK

Prof Silvina Ponce Dawson, Chair of the IUPAP Working Group

Distinguished guests from different organizations,

Ladies and Gentlemen


It’s my pleasure to be here with you this evening at the 4th International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) International Conference on Women in Physics.


As some of you will know, South Africa was one of “the Thirteen” founding countries of IUPAP in 1922. And among the members of the first General Assembly in 1923 was Marie Curie, who if I am not mistaken is still the only person to hold Nobel prizes in two fields, physics and chemistry, a remarkable achievement. Marie Curie is a role model to many women scientists around the world.


This year, 2011, is the centenary of Marie Curie’s 1911 Nobel prize for chemistry (for her discovery of the elements polonium and radium) and it’s probably because of that that 2011 is the international year of chemistry <> . It’s a year in which there is a focus on chemistry and what it has done to transform our lives. As part of the celebration of chemistry, we have been treated to international listings and rankings of various kinds.


We are proud to have one of Thomson Reuters’ (the science database people) top 100 chemists, Professor Suprakas Sinha-Ray, working in nanotechnology at South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.


I don’t think Thomson Reuters have released a similar list for the top 100 physicists, but they do have a list for the top 20 countries in physics <> , assessed by publications and citations.


South Africa is not one of them.


I can’t help thinking that this is because we have not yet properly unleashed the scientific talent of half of our people, the better half, the women.


In South Africa we have introduced policies to increase and improve women’s participation in science.


Yet the peculiar thing is that while we now have a gender balance in favour of women at university, there is a postgraduate research balance in favour of men.


This is not something that I know about in the abstract. I am the mother of a daughter who is busy completing her PhD in genetics. I am keenly aware of the challenges she faces as a woman in a man’s world in the laboratory. And not only there as well …


It has to be said that women are not encouraged to be scientists. In fact, as most of you here tonight know: you were actively discouraged by your parents or your school and even your university.


Girls and women are not supposed to be good at maths or science. And it shows in the studies of performance in maths and science in school. Boys do better, because they are encouraged to do better. And it often gets no better at university.


We all need mentors but women perhaps need mentoring of a special kind at university in the sciences.


We need interventions in favour of developing women in research, not only for its own sake but also to compensate for women’s dual careers at home and work.


Some practical interventions are already in place: the provision of equipment grants; special conference funding; workshops in publication and writing skills; postgraduate grants and research fellowships for women, special concessions for study leave (including lecturing replacements), as well as active institutional communication about research opportunities.


Without incentives that support and recognise women in research, significant change is unlikely to take place.


I hope that this conference will enable all of you to showcase your ideas, theories, and innovations.


I would like to congratulate the South African Institute of Physics (SAIP) for hosting this conference. The Institute has a remarkable track record in transforming and fostering the physics community in South Africa since its formation in 1955.


It even had the foresight to establish Women in Physics in South Africa (WiPiSA) in 2005 in association with the DST.


Various studies undertaken by them confirm a lot of what we know about the challenges that women face in the world of science. One study asked what made women successful scientists. The answers were as follows:


• Passionate teachers make a difference: Of the survey respondents, 75% had teachers who encouraged them to do well in science.

• Families set an example: 80% of the women in the study had family members who studied physical science at school.

• Physics can be fun: many women did not plan to do physics beyond first year, but were captivated as they got to know the subject better.

• Mentoring matters: mentors play a key role in equipping young women with confidence and project management skills.


Ladies and gentleman, it is clear that universal access to the sciences for women is crucial, not only for intellectual and personal development but also for building a more humane world in which all people can live with dignity.


I wish you every success with the conference over the next few days.


Thank you.



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