31 August 2013

Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be here with you.

I have a simple message for you today. Muslim women musttake advantage of the equality provision in the constitution. Don’t hold back.Take what we fought for and won and make it work for you. Shape your talentsand make yourself the best you can.

Women have been on the wrong end of the stick for far toolong.

Women have been powerless for far too long.

Women have been the “hewers of wood and drawers of water”for far too long.

Look at the consequences. Look at the global consequencesof inequality. More women die in wars than men. More women live in poverty thanmen. More women are unemployed than men.

When we use women’s talents, then we all benefit. Whenuse women’s talents, we build a better world.

We have a long history of struggling for both politicaland economic emancipation.

South African women organised and rose to the politicalchallenge of fighting for their freedom. 

Out of this triumphant organization of resistance tooppression came the legendary slogan: “Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo”. 

In union affairs, it is women who focused on the mostdisadvantaged workers and fought vigorously for better conditions of work. 

In political organisations, women placed the genderagenda at the forefront of debate and action.

In the education sector, women led and lead the charge toequal access for all.

Today, South Africa has achieved a general level ofgender equality - in no small measure shaped by our constitution - that hasonly been accomplished in other countries after many decades of democracy.

For the first time we have large numbers of women inParliament. For the first time, we have a substantial number of women as schoolprincipals. For the first time, we have women as vice chancellors. For thefirst time, we have women heading up state owned enterprises. 

And we have women as business executives in South Africa,although not enough women are members of boards. 

Despite progressive government policy, we have not yetcreated a comprehensive and systematic approach to structuring key impactprogrammes affecting the worst forms of gender inequality. 

As you know, we live in a world where the influence ofscience and technology is ubiquitous. It lies at the heart of ourcommunication, our household needs, our transportation; our entertainment, andincreasingly, of the education process itself. The sciences cast a broadeningshadow over every aspect of our lives, and in practically every instance itacts to improve our lives.

But we need more scientists, more mathematicians, andmore engineers.

In other words we are faced with an urgent and deepeningchallenge in the field of human capital development.

In government one of our main aims is to instil a spiritof innovation in our nation - a willingness to look at challenges afresh, toconsider problems and their solutions from different angles, and mostimportantly, to come up with solutions that act to solve known and realproblems.

We used to rely on new ideas coming from universities andmajor companies in the US and Europe. Ideas flowed from this innovative core tothe idea-and-technology-dependent periphery. 

This is no longer solely the case. 

The core and periphery are being scrambled up. Placesthat were on the margins of innovation ten years ago -Bangalore and Pune in India, Daejon in Korea, Shanghai and Shenzhen in China - arenow essential stops in the continuous flow of people, ideas and technologiesaround the world. 

Of course, the development of China and India intoscience and technology global contenders did not happen overnight. The Chineseand Indian governments chose to invest in technology and scientific education. 

As a result China has lifted huge numbers of its citizensout of poverty by expanding its production of manufactured goods, while India’sgrowth and development is largely the result of IT-enabled services.

Innovation in China and India is also not just about newknowledge, but about knowledge that is new to these countries. It’s aboutemulation and adaptation and diffusion. This kind of innovation is important,because it helps to understand why these economies are growing so fast and howrapidly they are likely to grow in the future. 

A lot of South African innovation is of this kind andtakes place well behind the frontier of technological innovation.

Let me say a word or two specifically about science.

Our lives have been improved immeasurably by science,engineering and medicine. They have provided us with fast transport andcommunications, safer and better accommodation, better medical care, abundantenergy, reliable and clean water and food, and infrastructures to support allthese necessities. 

Science has helped us gain an understanding of how humanactivity is warming the climate, and what impact that will have on food andwater security, and, crucially, what needs to be done to slow or reverse thewarming trend. 

Engineering offers us practical ways to meet thesechallenges by developing clean energy sources and transforming our ageingbuildings and transport technologies so that they are efficient andsustainable. 

There is always one particular breakthrough in science andtechnology that each of us counts as special - the growth of the internet, thefirst heart transplant, the discovery of Australopithecus Sediba. 

For women the breakthrough last year in the prevention ofAIDS is particularly significant – the proof that ARV treatment is also aprevention of transmission to a partner – because women are particularly atrisk of HIV infection.

I want more Muslim women tochoose to become scientists.

Yet the peculiar thing is thatwhile we now have a gender balance in favour of women at university, there is apostgraduate research balance in favour of men.

This is not something that Iknow about in the abstract. I am the mother of a daughter who has justcompleted her PhD in genetics. I am keenly aware of the challenges she faces asa woman in a man’s world.

We all need mentors but women perhaps need mentoring of aspecial kind at university in the sciences. 

We need interventions in favourof developing women in research, not only for its own sake but also tocompensate for women’s dual careers at home and work.

Some practical interventionsare already in place: the provision of equipment grants; special conferencefunding; workshops in publication and writing skills; postgraduate grants andresearch fellowships for women, special concessions for study leave (includinglecturing replacements), as well as active institutional communication aboutresearch opportunities.

Without incentives that supportand recognise women in research, significant change is unlikely to take place.

We have opened up our universities to change, andthousands of black students and women today enjoy state-supported access tohigher education. We invest in frontier research in universities in order topromote breakthroughs in the major new crosscutting fields likenano-technology, bio-technology and eco (or green) technology.

Yet there is still much work to do. South Africa is shortof skills. We are concerned about numbers of graduates leaving South Africa,both black and white. We know that the only way to entice them back is to offerthem better work, pay and opportunities.

South Africa is, like many developing and developedcountries, in the grip of a skills shortage. Globally the market for peoplewith portable skills in engineering, finance, marketing, construction,healthcare, management and technology is exploding. 

Companies operate in dozens of countries, requiringcomplex technologies and a massive pool of highly skilled people able tonavigate tricky international waters. Low-income developing countries likeChina and India are spending billions on infrastructure, creating enormousdemand for skilled workers. All these things are creating a fierce competitionfor talent.

In closing, I would like to reiterate that significantprogress has been made in South Africa with regards to the issues facing womenin education. 

We recognise our national and international obligationsin relation to addressing inequalities between men and women in the educationsystem, and we need to move beyond a demographic transformation to address thequalitative experiences of young people in the education system at all levels.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the contribution ofall women throughout the world towards our struggle for liberation.