Call for more women in science and engineering in Africa

By Nthambeleni Gabara

Pretoria - More needs to be done to attract women to study in the fields of science and engineering, says Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor.

Speaking at the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) symposium on the leadership roles of women in science, technology and innovation on Friday, the minister said while South Africa has done well in expanding the access of women to education, women stick to traditional subjects and shy away from science and technology.

She said university records showed that women continued to largely pursue studies in the 'traditional' disciplines such as humanities and social sciences.

The minister further said the greatest gender imbalance was in engineering and engineering technology where only one in four students was a woman.

Despite the increased access of science and technology fields by women, a great number of students also did not graduate. Nearly 6 in 10 of first-year students who enter university in 2000 drop out of the system in four years. Female students constitute more than half of this group.

"Even more distressing African female students constitute 7 in 10 of this female student group," said the minister.

"It is clear from experience elsewhere that we can do better on gender equity in the science and technology sector. Gender equity in education and employment is easier to achieve in a post-industrial economy than in an industrial economy" she said.

Industrial occupational structures were divided into "male jobs" and "female jobs" with those professions requiring technical skills being largely the preserve of males.

With the growing importance of knowledge-based occupations, the legions of lawyers, doctors, and managerial professionals, Pandor said women find it easier to fit in.

"The services industry is a case in point, where we see more women entering the management professions and occupying high-level positions. This trend is also more evident in universities and certain sections of the business sector where women in science have achieved leadership positions," she said.

Held under the theme "Enhancing the leadership roles of women in Science, Technology and Innovation", the symposium will highlight international policy experiences, an overview of the South African policy environment for women in science, the work of SET for women committee on NACI and experiences of women scientists as beneficiaries of gender policies. - BuaNews