Every year during August, coinciding with the nation-wide celebration of women and their achievements, the department of science and technology (DST) hosts the South African Women in Science Awards (WISA) to recognise and reward the achievements of women scientists and researchers in South Africa.
The WISA finalists and winners are profiled as role models for younger women scientists and researchers, the aim being to dispel the myth that science is for men.
The DST hopes that the achievements of the award winners will encourage other women to persevere in overcoming gender discrimination to contribute to research and knowledge generation.
We are sure that the finalists and winners will continue to develop the next generation of researchers by mentoring younger scientists, particu-larly women.
If South Africa is to become a knowledge economy, it cannot afford to neglect the skills and talents of over half its population.
These awards are part of our efforts to boost the representation of women in science and technology-related careers, and the generally low graduation rates of women in these fields.
The situation is improving, with women in 2011 constituting 45% of all instruction and research staff in our country’s higher education institutions, as well as 48% of all master’s graduates and 42% of all doctoral graduates.
Unfortunately, many of the positions women hold in research and academia are at lower ranks.
However, approximately 50% of all students supported by the National Research Foundation at both master’s and doctoral levels in the period 2009/2010 to 2012/2013 were women.
This year’s theme for WISA is aligned to the 2013 theme for the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which is “Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls”.
We believe that the science community has a lot to contribute to the eradication of such violence through innovations that assist in the prevention of trafficking, the protection and empowerment of women and girls, and the response of the criminal justice- system to -violence against female victims, among other things.
The DST alternates the distinguished women scientists and distinguished young women scientists award categories between life sciences, social sciences and humanities in one year, and physical and engineering sciences the next. This year awards will be made in the former.
These are the categories:
• Awards for distinguished women scientists: Two awards will be made to scientists and researchers for their outstanding scientific contribution to advancing science and building the knowledge base in their respective disciplines. The two awards will be made in (a) life -sciences and in (b) humanities and social sciences.
• Awards for distinguished young women scientists: Two awards will be made to scientists and researchers under the age of 40 for their outstanding contribution to advancing science and building the knowledge base in their respective disciplines. The two awards will be made in (a) life sciences and (b) humanities and social sciences.
• Fellowships: Awards will be made to six women under the age of 35 who are currently engaged in full-time research study leading to a master’s or doctoral degree. The awards recognise outstanding ability- and potential in research and are meant to encourage young women to remain in research. The fellowships will be made to three master’s -students and three doctoral students.
• Tata Africa scholarships for women in science, engineering and technology: Tata Africa will award study grants to women -currently involved in full-time research study leading to a master’s or doctoral degree in an area where the participation of women is -traditionally low. The scholarships will be awarded to three master’s students and three doctoral students.
• Research and innovation that has contributed to combating violence against women: In line with this year’s theme, a once-off category has been designed and two special awards will be made to women scientists in any field for the contribution of their research to combating violence against women. Personal awards will be made to a distinguished researcher and an emerging researcher. Derek Hanekom is the minister of science and technology