Advancing the next generation of women researchers

15 August 2019 | From Kgethi

Dear colleagues and students

Women’s Month is an important time to reflect not only on how women have helped to build our young democracy but also on how they can be agents of change today. This was the focus of a lunch event hosted by the University of Cape Town (UCT) last Thursday, 8 August, in the dining hall of Graça Machel residence.

UCT is committed to increasing the number of women researchers at our institution, particularly in areas where women researchers are scarce. Last year, I announced that I would award substantial scholarships to women and transgender researchers at UCT under the banner: Advancing womxn: a call for change. They will focus on training postgraduates and postdoctoral fellows, with an emphasis on building capacity among black South African women.

On Thursday, Professor Sue Harrison, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Internationalisation, introduced the recipients of five grants, worth a total of R22.5 million over the next five years. Three of these women will receive R1 million per year for five years. They are:

  • Dr Katye Altieri, from the Department of Oceanography, who aims to develop a research and leadership training programme at UCT for black women and nonconforming genders to build capacity in the field of oceanography.
  • Professor Floretta Boonzaier, from the Department of Psychology, who aims to shift how we think about and conduct research on gender-based violence through her project: “Unsettling knowledge production on gendered and sexual violence in South Africa”.
  • Professor Janet Hapgood, from the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, who aims to help women in sub-Saharan Africa make informed choices about contraception and HIV risk.

Two meritorious awards worth R750 000 per year for five years will go to:

  • Professor Patricia Kooyman, from the Department of Chemical Engineering, who will train black female or trans postgraduate researchers in critical skills in chemical engineering, catalysis research and transmission electron microscopy – areas where men still dominate.
  • Dr Robyn Pickering, from the Department of Geological Sciences, who, with her colleagues, has successfully relaunched the Human Evolution Research Institute at UCT as an enabling research environment for South African black women and trans palaeoanthropologists.

At the lunch, Dr Vuyo Mahlati, the global director of the International Women’s Forum, spoke powerfully on our responsibility to grasp the opportunities of the changing global order to transform the identity of women and LGBTI people, and create the society we want to live in.

I spoke about the challenges facing African South African women leaders in particular, and the importance of encouraging young women in postgraduate programmes to stay within the academic system so that it can finally change. I take this opportunity to repeat this message to all our grad students: Stay in the system. We need you. You have this opportunity to be the change you long to see.

I wish you all a happy South African Women’s Month.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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