The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, told a gathering of women scientists that, while there is a growing scientific base in Africa, women are still under-represented in the field of science and technology.
The Minister was addressing the opening of the Gender Summit Africa (GSA) in Cape Town today, the first to be hosted in Africa, with the theme of "Poverty alleviation and economic empowerment through scientific research and innovation: Better knowledge from and for Africa".
The event is co-hosted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the Medical Research Council, supported by the Department of Science and Technology. The GSA is part of a series of international Gender Summits held in various countries across the globe, providing a platform for leading female scientists, researchers and decision-makers.
The Minister told the more than 300 scientists and policy-makers attending the event that they had a role to play in placing Africa firmly in the global conversation about science. She encouraged them to take responsibility for shaping the future of science, technology and innovation (STI) in African countries.
Talking about the devastating effects of gender inequality and unfair discrimination on women globally, the Minister said more women lived in poverty, were unemployed and had been denied education than men.
"The challenge for Africa is to ensure that the gender imbalance in the practising of science, technology and innovation is addressed. None of us here underestimates the importance of science, technology and innovation for socio-economic development, in both the developed and developing world. The involvement of women in STI activities is thus crucial for contributing to the development of nations."
She said South Africa had a well-developed research base and a network of public science research institutions focusing on key priority areas, and had made some advances in HIV, TB, biotechnology, advanced materials and space science, among other fields. However, the country had yet to unleash the scientific talent of half of its people, despite a gender balance in favour of women at universities and a research balance in favour of women in higher education. However, women lagged behind in taking up science careers and going on to undertake PhDs.
"We need to be innovative in encouraging girls and women to take up careers in science," the Minister said.
Also speaking at the GSA, the HSRC CEO, Prof. Olive Shisana, told the audience that gender inequalities and bias that were seen as the "norm" had influenced science, medicine and technology, and that it was "poor science" that women, transgender and gender non-conforming people were often excluded from research and the innovation that resulted from that research.
She said the GSA should thus take a fresh look at gender issues in science knowledge production in and for Africa. It should furthermore formulate a gender policy charter for scientific research and strengthen research collaboration with all stakeholders.
The Summit ends on Wednesday.
Lunga Ngqengelele, DST: Media Liaison Officer, at 012 843 6799 or 082 566 0446
Veronica Mohapeloa,DST: Deputy Director, Media Liaison, at 082 882 3818
Julian A Jacobs, HSRC: Director: Communication & Stakeholder Relations, at 082 454 4902