World comes together to advance women's equality


The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) joins the international community in marking International Women's Day (IWD) on 8 March 2023.

IWD is an annual celebration of women's social, economic, cultural and political achievements. The day also serves as a call to accelerate women's equality.

Under the theme "DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality", the United Nations (UN) observance of IWD 2023 highlights the need for inclusive and transformative technology and digital education.

The seminar is in line with the priority theme of technology and gender equality of the 67th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW), taking place in New York from 6 to 17 March 2023.  The UNCSW is an intergovernmental body dedicated to promoting gender equality and women's empowerment.  It meets at the UN Headquarters in New York every year to assess progress and develop concrete policies to promote gender equality and women's advancement worldwide.

The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, is part of the South African delegation to this year's UNCSW gathering.  The delegation is led by the Ministry for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities.

The Department of Science and Innovation's participation in the session is in line with the 2019 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation policy intents to "improve inclusion and build more linkages across the national system of innovation" and "expand internationalisation and science diplomacy".

It also complements the global commitment by UN member states to achieve gender equality by 2030, under Sustainable Development Goal 5.  South Africa aligns strongly with African Union's goals to build an inclusive digital economy and society.

In support of IWD, the South African Embassy in Indonesia hosted an IWD seminar in Jakarta on 7 March 2023.

Delivering an address at the seminar, the Chief Director: Multilateral Cooperation and Africa at the DSI, Ms Mmampei Chaba, said "We strongly support the seminar's call for the development of women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and in innovation and technological change. We need to close the gender digital divide. This is especially important for the African continent if we are to achieve gender equality in the future."

South Africa is undertaking many interventions to advance women and girls in the 4th industrial revolution space.

"As government, we are working very closely with institutions of higher learning and organisations involved in innovation and technology. We are doing this though public-private partnerships," said Ms Chaba.

Among the interventions is the development of a dedicated platform for reporting gender-based violence (GBV) with an online GBV tracker system. This technology is assisting in the tracking of cases within the criminal justice system, including the rural justice system. This helps identify where interventions are required for the process to progress.

The DSI is also a partner in the African Girls can Code Initiative, which is implemented by UN Women and the African Union Commission in collaboration with the International Telecommunication Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. The programme aims to train and empower a minimum of 2 000 young girls aged between 17 and 25 across Africa, enabling them to become computer programmers, creators and designers, and putting them on the path to take up studies and careers in the information, communication and technology, education and coding sectors.

In collaboration with the government, multinational corporations such as Microsoft have launched an intervention that links policy to cloud-related skills for the future. They are currently supporting 1 000 start-ups and attempting to digitally transform the African continent for inclusive growth as envisaged in the AU Agenda 2063.

Naspers Labs, a social impact programme to address youth unemployment through digital skills development, access to technology careers and support to youth-led, technology-enabled micro-businesses, is providing targeted funding for woman-owned small, medium and micro-enterprises to bridge the digital gender divide.  This intervention has been a success for women in agriculture, as well as in technological innovation and change.

In the 2021/22 financial year, a total of R127,3 million in funding was distributed to women entrepreneurs and innovators through funding instruments of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), a DSI entity.  This amount is 37,1% of the agency's total disbursements. TIA also oversees management of the Innovation Fund, a business innovation support instrument that accelerates the development of South African firms based on technological innovation.  Women owners made up 49,5% of black recipients of these funds in 2021/22.

According to a 2020 study conducted by the African Academy of Sciences, while women outnumber their male counterparts at bachelor's and master's degree level globally (53% of total graduates), representation declines at doctoral level, with women making up only 43% of graduates.  

Among researchers, there is greater gender disparity.  Men account for 72% of the world's researchers.  In some high-income countries in Europe and Asia, only 25% of researchers are woman.  

However, the situation in South Africa is better, with women making up over 40% of the research workforce, and with the policies currently in place we can be confident of more progress in the years to come.


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