While laws and polices were in place to ensure women's success in various fields, South Africa's academic landscape remains male-dominated with a meager three females serving as Vice-Chancellors of universities.
Science and Technology Minister Nalendi Pandor decried this situation in her address to the Higher Education Resource Service Academy conference held in Woodstock, Cape Town yesterday.
"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 focused and well crafted joint strategies are the best means of reversing the discrimination that continues to be a part of higher education," said Pandor.
However, she over the past decade, overall enrolment of women at universities had been "steadily increasing".
She said at undergraduate and honours levels women were 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."
She said between 2001 and 2009 the number of women enrolled at PhD level increased from three to four out of ten total enrolments, with women graduations increased by the same amount.
But she said it was "worrying" that although the number of women enrolling and graduating at Masters and PhD levels was on the increase, they were still in the minority at this level of postgraduate study.
"The number of women declines as one moves up the academic ladder."
She underlined that the issue of advancement of gender equity for women working in academia could not be isolated from the "bigger issue of the entire human capital pipeline".
In response to this challenge the National Research Foundation (NRF) "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 was done by strengthening support for emerging researchers through increased investment in the Thuthuka programme, with a particular focus on young black women, and intervention to fast-track the completion of doctoral degrees by academic staff.
Pandor said her department was implementing a number of programmes targeting emerging women researchers through funds sourced from the 2011/12 medium term budget.
"We continue to make available block study-grants for part-time doctoral students aimed at accelerating the throughput of these students. These block study-grants will support part-time doctoral students that are in the process of preparing a dissertation for examination and/or at least one manuscript for submission to an accredited journal."
She said the award will be cater for a minimum period of one month, based on a monthly rate of R10 000 per month.
"A hundred block study grants will be made in the next three years," she said.
On emerging researchers, she said a once-off research development grant will be offered to qualifying researchers with a valid National Research Foundation Y-rating.
The grant would support the students in becoming established researchers, with priority given to black women.
She forecast that 115 research development grants of up to R300 000 would be awarded, noting that in 2011, of the 2 456 researchers rated by the NRF, only 20% are black and 29% are women.