South Africa's top women scientists honoured
The annual Women in Science awards were presented in Centurion on August 24. South African Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor and German researcher Dr. Britta Thege spoke at the occasion. German Ambassador Horst Freitag was called on stage to present the winners of the Distinguished Young Women in Science categories their awards, together with Minister Pandor.
Prof. Nadar, Minister Pandor, Dr. Maphanga, Ambassdor Freitag, and Prof. Thege (L-R)
Due to the ongoing German-South African Year of Science, this year's Women and Science Awards ceremony had distinct German flavour and was included in the bilateral year's event calendar.
The annual event is hosted by Department of Science and Technology (DST) and recognizes South African women whose work in the scientific field has helped change their communities. Prizes worth up to 170,000 Rand (over 16,000 Euro) are given in three categories: DST Fellowship for Masters and doctorate students, distinguished women scientists and distinguished young women scientists.
In addition to presenting some of these awards during the course of the evening, German Ambassador Horst Freitag also handed over additional prizes to the two winners of the Distinguished Young Women in Science categories on behalf of the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF): a trip to Berlin to take part in the closing ceremony of the German-South African Year of Science in April 2013.
Minister Pandor speaking at the awards ceremony
This year's Distinguished Young Women in Science winners were Dr. Rapela Regina Maphanga (Physical and Engineering Sciences) and Prof. Sarojini Nadar (Social Sciences and Humanities). Dr. Maphanga received her PhD in Physics from the University of Limpopo and is a senior researcher at the university's materials modelling center. Prof. Nadar is the University of KwaZulu Natal's Dean of Research and is an Associate Professor in the University's Gender and Religion Programme.
Speaking at the awards ceremony, Minister of Science and Technology Pandor said the awards have become a remarkable feature of South Africa's celebration of Women's Month.
"Many of us have a very esoteric view of science and really do not always make the link that it definitely has answers to many of the challenges that our societies have to address," Pandor said.
She called on women scientists to focus on rural areas and use science to make a difference to women who are vulnerable.
Enlarge image German Prof. Britta Thege delivers speech at the ceremony (© DST) Sharing the podium with Minister Pandor was Dr. Britta Thege from the Institute for Interdisciplinary Gender Research and Diversity at the University of Applied Sciences Kiel (Germany). She addressed the gathering by examining the impact of women’s former exclusion from and current under-representation in the sciences.
She noted that the historical exclusion of women from science “goes hand in hand with a significant loss of talent and potential in terms of new ideas and a more holistic – sustainable – knowledge production.”
She then identified the importance of the awards presentation in this context as threefold: Firstly, making women’s scientific contributions and achievements visible and public, secondly, encouraging and promoting the scientific career of individual women and, thirdly, creating notable non-stereotyped role models.
The Women in Science Awards was one of many activities taking place from April 2012-April 2013 as part of the German-South African Year of Science. The International science years were introduced in 2006 by Germany's Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) to highlight important bilateral partners in science and research. Since then the BMBF has held a number of international science years with strategic countries such as China, Brazil and Russia.