Women in Science: The Emerging Researchers

Winner: Dr Sindiso Mnisi Weeks

Dr Sindiso Mnisi Weeks completed her DPhil in Law in 2009 at the University of Oxford, where she was a Rhodes scholar, based at New College and the Centre for Socio- Legal Studies.

She is a graduate of the University of Cape Town (UCT), from which she obtained a BA and LLB, both with distinction. Dr Mnisi Weeks is currently a senior researcher in the Law, Race and Gender Research Unit at UCT, working on the rural women's action-research project, which combines research and policy work on women, land and customary law.

She is also a senior lecturer in UCT's Department of Private Law, where she co-teaches African Customary Law. Her publication work spans customary law, women's rights, traditional institutions and the Constitution. Dr Mnisi Weeks has succesfully supervised 17 postgraduate students at honours and Master's level. Her publication record includes seven peer-reviewed journal articles, three book chapters and one technical report.

Her main concerns have been with rural women's exclusion from law-making and decision-making practices in traditional communities, as well as their participation in national legislative processes. Using methods that include rural women's participation, she has publicly challenged these forms of exclusion and the implications they have for rural women's ability to attain social and economic security.

Dr Mnisi Weeks's current research focuses on vernacular dispute resolution forums in South Africa, and she has been actively involved in the coordination and representation of the multi-sector resistance to the passing of the Traditional Courts Bill. Her experience includes policy work, public education and media publicity. As an emerging researcher, her recognition at an international level is steadily growing.

She has been invited to contribute to publications alongside senior academics abroad and to deliver one of the keynote addresses at an international conference in Brazil next year. Dr Mnisi Weeks is a former clerk of the Deputy Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, Dikgang Moseneke.

She has won the Ismail Mahomed South African Law Reform Commission Essay Competition, among other awards.

She was named one of the 200 Young South Africans (in the business and law category) by the Mail & Guardian in 2011, and she was part of the Law, Race and Gender research unit team that was awarded the Social Responsiveness Award by UCT in 2011.

First runner-up: Dr Sengeziwe Sibeko
Dr Sengeziwe Sibeko is a specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist who obtained medical qualifications at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and Colleges of Medicine of South Africa.

She received the prestigious Columbia University Southern African Fogarty Aids international training and research programme fellowship and completed her MSc in Epidemiology at Columbia University, New York, in 2009. She is an Oxford Nuffield Medical Fellow based at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, John Radcliffe Hospital at Oxford University, United Kingdom, where she is registered for a PhD in HIV mucosal immunology of the female reproductive tract.

Prior to Oxford, she worked as a clinician scientist based at the Centre for the Aids Programmes of Research in South Africa (Caprisa) at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine (UKZN), while employed as a consultant gynaecologist at Mahatma Gandhi Hospital. At Caprisa she was part of the landmark and multi-awardwinning study on tenofovir gel trial, and led the development and implementation of its contraceptive counselling curriculum in addition to designing all its clinical aspects.

Dr Sibeko has co-authored 16 peer-reviewed articles in publications, including Science and is a member of 11 scientific committees, including the World Health Organisation's contraceptive and HIV task force.

Dr Sibeko's research interests are in the betterment of women's health, especially in respect of the HIV/Aids epidemic. Her specific interests include understanding biological mechanisms responsible for increased HIV acquisition risk in women for the ultimate purpose of development of an effective HIV-preventive strategy in the form of either a microbicide or vaccine.

Second runner-up: Dr Joyce Chitja
Dr Joyce Chitja holds a PhD in Food Security, an MSoc Sci in Community Resource Management and a BSc Agric in Horticultural Science.

She is currently a lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), a council member of the Agricultural Research Council and board member of the Agricultural Development Agency in KwaZulu- Natal.

Her research areas include food security in relation to smallholder farmer market access and value chains, water-use security, rural livelihoods and vulnerability, gender and agriculture, organic farming production, and land-use security and reform.

She served on the Umgungundlovu Further Education and Training College Council and on the KwaZulu-Natal Farmers Union Board, representing UKZN. Dr Chitja has been a visiting scholar at Cornell University in the United States of America and has presented her research findings and concluded study missions in Australia, Italy, California, Kenya and Brazil.

Dr Chitja has supervised 17 postgraduate students at Master's and honours level and her publication record includes seven peer reviewed journal articles, three book chapters and one technical report. Her focus is on establishing a robust community engagement research approach and programme where student research questions and the research laboratory are embedded in the rural smallholder farming communities.

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