There have been some positive steps toward
getting more young people, particularly
women, involved in studying STEM subjects.
In recent years, South Africa has unveiled
a number of undergraduate and postgraduate
programmes to encourage women to enrol
for STEM subjects. For example, black
women held the largest share of National
Research Foundation (NRF) bursary support
in 2016 overall. In the areas of engineering
and computer sciences, NRF funding was
increased more for women, though men
still get the lion’s share of funding in these important subjects. The funders are trying, but because of the leaky pipeline, among other factors, there aren’t always women to take up these opportunities.
So, while money is important, it’s not enough. Retention levels are low. Almost equal numbers of males to females are entering undergraduate science-based degrees. At the postgraduate levels, though, the number of men is higher in many sciencebased degrees, suggesting their female peers have left the system. This isn’t a uniquely South African problem, but what drives it is different: the fact that apartheid, for the most part, kept
black people out of universities. As elsewhere, patriarchy is a common global factor in holding girls (and especially black girls) back. In many cultures, women are expected to be
subservient to ‘show respect’ for men; the idea that a woman’s place is in the kitchen persists.