_: The Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom, announced this year’s Women in Science Awards winners at a gala dinner in Johannesburg today.
The Women in Science Awards have become a remarkable feature of South Africa’s celebration of Women’s Month, building on the excitement of another significant event in South Africa’s science awareness calendar, National Science Week, which took place from 29 July to 2 August this year.
The Department of Science and Technology initiated the Women in Science Awards in 2003 to honour women scientists and researchers for their outstanding work in the fields of science, engineering and technology, as well as the social sciences and humanities.
The award winners are profiled as role models for younger female scientists and researchers, with the aim of dispelling the myth that science is for men. The department hopest hat the achievements of these winners will encourage other women to persevere in overcoming gender discrimination. They will contribute to research and knowledge generation, and the finalists and winners will continue to develop the next generation of researchers by mentoring younger scientists, particularly women scientists.
Among the top winners is Prof. Soraya Seedat, who is this year’s winner in the Distinguished Women in the Life Sciences category. As a Professor of Psychiatry and Executive Head of Psychiatry at Stellenbosch University, Prof. Seedathas developed a multifaceted, collaborative research and postgraduate training programme of excellence in post-traumatic stress disorder. This programme brings together basic and clinical neuroscience, with the overarching goal of furthering understanding of the aetiology and patho-physiology of this disorder.
Prof. Kholeka Moloi is this year’s winner in the Distinguished Women in the Social Sciences and Humanities category. A sought-after motivational speaker, Prof. Moloi is currently Professor of Education in the Faculty of Human Sciences at the Vaal University of Technology. She has extensive experience in teaching and research in educational leadership and management, as well as in learning organisations and change management.
In the Distinguished Young Women in the Social Sciences and Humanities, Prof. Mpfariseni Budeli came top. The first black South African woman to obtain a PhD in Commercial Law at a previously white academic institution, Prof. Budeli is currently Professor of Labour Law in the Department of Mercantile Law at the University of South Africa, making her the first black woman in South Africa to be a full professor of law at the university.
Her work has had an impact on labour law teaching and research in the country, as well as in other African countries such as Zambia and Tanzania. A special award was made this year to Prof. Nareadi Phasha in the category “The Role of Science and Research against Violence towards Women”. This is aligned with the 2013 theme for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, which is “The elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls”.
Prof. Phasha is Chair of the Department of Inclusive Education at the University of South Africa. Her research focuses on the high rate of sexual victimisation among the school-age population and promotes an understanding of the links between the emotional consequences of sexual victimisation and school functioning. This is to position educators to help find solutions to such problems, to help learners cope educationally and to eradicate the huge burden of sexual exploitation.
Winners were also announced in the other categories, such as Emerging Researcher, Violence against Women, the Department of Science and Technology Fellowships towards master’s and doctoral degrees, and the Tata Scholarships towards master’s and doctoral.
Minister Hanekom congratulated the winners and the runners-up alike, saying South Africa had set itself the goal of becoming a knowledge-based society. “For South Africa to achieve this goal, it has to optimise its research base and productivity and performance, and most importantly, it has to maximally utilise ideas, creativity, ingenuity and innovation among the entire population, especially women,” he said.
He said it was tragic that violence against women in South Africa was widespread; it was a serious matter affecting the lives of many women, and was an obstacle to the achievement of equality, development and peace. However, a growing portfolio of redress and equity programmes constituted the Department’s response to the systemic discrimination against women in science, engineering and technology fields.