The United Nations (UN) celebrated the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, on Sunday, 11 February 2018.
According to the UN, a significant gender gap has persisted throughout the years at all levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines all over the world. Even though women have made tremendous progress towards increasing their participation in higher education, they are still underrepresented in these fields.
“The UN has noted that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will makes a significant contribution to the economic development of nations. Despite this realisation research on women in science, technology and innovation continues to show that there is fewer women faculty in STEM at higher education and research institutions. A number of reasons for this have been put forward, including limited professional development opportunities provided to early career female researchers; limited institutional support for work-life balance in science; and discriminatory practices in hiring, promotion and retention.” said Dr Beverley Damonse, Group Executive Corporate Relations and Science Engagement, National Research Foundation(NRF).
“We, as the NRF, have implemented interventions that directly speak to the findings of the research and we have set for ourselves ambitious targets in increasing the participation of women and girls in STEM. However, this challenge is a societal one and needs all South Africans to pull together in encouraging and support women and girls already in STEM and those still considering their entry in science, technology and innovation” concluded Dr Damonse.
The NRF, as a leading agency in the National System of Innovation, is committed to the transformation of the scientific workforce and achieving gender parity. To this end, the organisation has managed to grow its funding of women significantly. Some of the key statistics with regards to its contribution to supporting women and girls’ advancement in STEM are as follows:
During the 2016/17 financial year, 32 % of researchers who received NRF ratings were female. In addition, to increase gender representativity in the review and evaluation panels, the NRF provided opportunities for inexperienced members to join panels as observers to build capacity.
From 2014 to 2016, there has been a growth of 31.3% in the number of women funded for Master’s by the NRF, 24% growth in the number of those engaged in Doctoral studies, and a 22.8% increase in the funding of women doing their Postdoctoral work.
In the past financial year (2016/17), the NRF increased the support for female postgraduate students by 76%, and over the same period, support for black postgraduate students increased by 94%.
To date, the NRF allocated R237 million for the NRF’s emerging women researcher initiatives, such as the expanded Thuthuka Funding Framework, which places young women researchers at the NRF and science councils.
Currently a total of 83 operating SARChI Research chairs and three Department of Science and Technology (DST)/NRF Centres of Excellence are headed by female researchers.
In an effort to accelerate the development of black and especially female emerging researchers in the 2016/17 financial year, 25 women researchers at the University of Limpopo; 35 at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and 25 at the University of Zululand (UniZulu) were selected to participate in a series of research writing and grant-making programmes.