The International Day of Women and Girls in Science was celebrated on Sunday 11 February. In an opinion piece for the Mail & Guardian, Prof Sibusiso Moyo (Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies) writes that we must invest in educational opportunities, provide mentorship and support networks, and actively promote gender diversity in scientific research and innovation to harness the full potential of women in science.
- Read the article below or click here for the piece as published.
Prof Sibusiso Moyo*
As we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11 February, it's imperative to reflect on the progress made and the challenges that still persist in ensuring gender equality in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – fields. This day serves as a global celebration of the invaluable contributions women make to STEM disciplines, while also highlighting the disparities that hinder their full participation.
I urge us all to redouble our efforts in encouraging and supporting more women to pursue careers in science.
Despite strides in education, the gender gap remains glaringly evident, with millions of girls still facing barriers to accessing quality education, particularly in conflict-affected regions. The suspension of educational opportunities for women, as witnessed across the world, underscores the urgent need to address systemic barriers hindering girls' education globally. Furthermore, women and girls are disproportionately excluded from opportunities to build essential skills, perpetuating the cycle of inequality.
In the realm of science and innovation, gender disparities persist, limiting women's roles and contributions. As technology continues to advance, it is crucial that women are not left behind. The emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) presents both opportunities and challenges, yet women remain underrepresented in this field. The consequences of this imbalance are stark, as AI technologies often reflect biases that can exacerbate inequalities, particularly for women of colour.
However, amidst these challenges, there are beacons of hope that inspire us to strive for greater gender parity in STEM. This year Stellenbosch University (SU) is elated to have Melissa Muller, South Africa's top-performing matric learner in 2023, as a shining example of the potential that lies within young women interested in science. Her decision to study Mechatronics Engineering at SU exemplifies the importance of nurturing and supporting women's ambitions in STEM fields. We congratulate many other women and girls who continue to excel and enter STEM fields traditionally underrepresented by women.
At SU, we have seen the share of female doctoral graduates steadily increased between 2018 and 2021 to 48% of doctoral graduates being female. This compares well with the 46% recorded for the South African higher education sector.
Moreover, the recent launch of the Paarl Africa Underground Laboratory (Paul) project represents a groundbreaking initiative that underscores Africa's potential in scientific research. As we embark on this pioneering endeavour to study dark matter and neutrinos, let us ensure that women are actively involved and represented in this scientific pursuit.
On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, let us reaffirm our commitment to dismantling barriers and creating inclusive environments where women can thrive in STEM. We must invest in educational opportunities, provide mentorship and support networks, and actively promote gender diversity in scientific research and innovation. By harnessing the full potential of women in science, we can drive meaningful progress towards a more equitable and prosperous future for all.
We acknowledge the women scientists at SU who continue to make a great impact and continue mentoring future generations, for example, Prof Michele Miller, who heads up the Animal TB Research Group at SU and holds the DSI-NRF South African Research Chair in Animal TB and Prof Quinette Louw, the Executive head of the Department of Health and Rehabilitation Studies at SU, and South African Research Chair in Innovative Rehabilitation.
As we celebrate the achievements of women in science, let us also recognise the work that lies ahead in realising true gender equality in STEM fields. Together, let us pave the way for a future where every girl and woman has the opportunity to pursue her passion and contribute her talents to shaping the world through science and innovation.
*Prof Sibusiso Moyo is Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies at Stellenbosch University.