26 June 2008

South Africa: Women Under-Represented in Science, Tech Fields

Pretoria — Women are still under-represented in the Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) fields, says Dr Cheryl de la Rey, Chairperson of Science, Engineering and Technology for Women (SET4W).

Speaking during a symposium on changing the perceptions of women in SET on Wednesday, Ms de la Rey said women have progressed since the dawn of democracy, but that not enough has been done and the SET is still a male-dominated sector.

"As there is not enough sufficient education to increase the participation of women on SET, we propose the visibility of SET careers as a viable choice for women. Speaking on behalf of Science and Technology Minister, Director General, Dr Phil Mjwara said the country was committed to the critical challenge of women empowerment in the SET fields. He said South Africa's collective efforts to improve women's access to SET should focus on removing the obstacles preventing women from becoming major contributors in the science and technology environment. "The department will continue to maintain and enhance a policy framework that is inclusive and supportive of the needs of women as consumers and producers of science and technology," he said.

Mr Mjwara said their focus is on funding, educational, systemic and structural interventions, communication, marketing and recognition. According to the Director General, by addressing the broad thematic areas, they hoped to increase not just the number of female scientists in South Africa, but also to improve their impact of their contribution on society. "We hope that your presentation will set the scene for further discussions on the empowerment of women in SET and they will be used in the development of a brochure and an awareness campaign.

Guest speaker from the Southwestern University in the United States, Dr Barbara Boucher Owens said young boys were more interested in computer science than young girls. She said while young female South Africans are developing more interests in library science and business technology, but they are still less represented in engineering and other related fields. "There is a need for career exhibition aimed at encouraging young South African females to pursue their careers in science and related fields," she said. The symposium was hosted by the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) with the sole purpose of identifying factors hindering women to participate on SET. It was also focuses on generating recommendations that government and the private sector need to do to attract, retain and support more women in SET.

SET4W strives to develop advice aimed at achieving greater equality between women and men by bringing a gender equality perspective into everyday policy-making. The NACI is a statutory council that advises Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena on matters pertaining to the National System of Innovation.

The symposium proceedings will form the basis of the information.

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