Opinion: Empower women in STEMI to unleash the potential for a brighter SA

By Tebogo Mashifana and Lebogang Seale. They recently published an opinion article that first appeared in SowetanLive on 30 August 2023.


The fields provide tools, knowledge needed to navigate the ever-changing world

A recent study from Uppsala University in Sweden has suggested that the full moon affects men more than women. In their study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment in 2021, researchers observed that sleep issues in men may be correlated with the cycles of the moon, and that women, by contrast, seemed to be largely unaffected by the lunar cycle.

We were reminded of this peculiar study by images of leaders of seven political parties recently adorning television screens and newspapers, in what they described as a “Moonshot Pact”. It might seem a far-fetched connection, but it was by no coincidence that political party leaders in a Moonshot Pact were all men.

It speaks volumes about the ongoing challenges around gender equity in SA, doesn’t it? In the midst of all the talks during Women’s Month commemorations, one particular area has been largely missing from the public discourse.

Very little attention has been given to the extent to which women continue to be underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation (STEMI) related sectors. While the significance of STEMI is undeniable, the gender gap within these fields remains a challenge that demands attention.

For a country that continually preaches issues of gender equity from rooftops, it is a travesty that women are still underrepresented in STEMI education and careers.

A report by the United Nations Children’s Fund), released last year, found the gender gap in STEMI fields widens in post-school education and training, with less than one third of females (28.5%) graduating to STEMI-related careers.

This is despite the fact that more girls than boys took the grade 12 exams in maths and physical science in 2021, but boys outperformed girls in both subjects. Female participation in the labour market in STEMI fields also trails behind that of men, with women constituting only 7% of all engineers in SA today.

It is a grave concern that women always have to wade through a myriad of challenges to thrive in a male-dominated environment. Discriminating against women in STEMI can have a lifelong impact on their prospects for success and on the country in general, as it can exacerbate the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

STEMI is more than just an amalgamation of letters, it presents us with a holistic approach to knowledge, skills and problem-solving. Through STEMI disciplines, we are able to see how the challenges of the modern world are complex and multifaceted and how working in silos must cease to be an option. It is the backbone of technological advancement, and has the great potential to propel industries forward and push the boundaries of human achievement.

From groundbreaking medical discoveries to cutting-edge technological innovations, STEMI fields provide the tools and knowledge needed to navigate an ever-changing world. Beyond its immediate role, it is a catalyst for economic growth, offering a plethora of career opportunities and fostering the creation of new industries. Women stand to gain tremendously from embracing STEMI.

STEMI should be used as a vehicle that does not only represent a collective of disciplines but a movement that celebrates diversity and fosters equal participation. There is an urgent call to women to encourage them to embrace STEMI and take their rightful place in shaping the future of SA.

By breaking down traditional barriers, women can contribute their unique insights, sparking fresh approaches to problems and driving forward advancements that benefit society at large. Their presence in STEMI is not only about achieving gender parity, it is about leveraging the untapped potential that women bring to the table.

A diverse perspective is presented by women, bringing distinct viewpoints and experiences to the table, which can lead to more comprehensive and innovative solutions.

Women should raise their hands to be role models and mentor and lift others as they rise. This is a clarion call for action for every woman in STEMI, irrespective of their levels and roles, to be intentional about and prioritise. The next generation of scientists and engineers will be inspired by today’s generation.

By breaking down barriers, fostering inclusion, and harnessing the power of diverse perspectives, women can unleash a wave of transformation reverberating throughout the nation.

  • Prof Mashifana is HOD, Chemical Engineering Technology, Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, University of Johannesburg.
  • Seale is senior manager, Strategic Communications, UJ. He is a PhD candidate in media studies and journalism.


*The views expressed in this article are that of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg.

Share this

Latest News

All News