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National Assembly Speaker Mbete calls for heightened education of women and girl children in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)

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Parliaments of the world must help break the back of exclusion and under-representation of women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields and related professions. This was a clarion call made by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms Baleka Mbete, while addressing an opening session of the 139thAssembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) held in Geneva – Switzerland this week.

The theme of the 139thAssembly of the IPU is “Parliamentary Leadership in Promoting Peace and Development in the Age of Innovation and Technological Change”. Speaker Mbete was one of the heads of parliaments from 130 countries who shared a platform reflecting on how best could Parliaments of the world ensure that the technological advancements characterised by, among others, exponential growth of artificial intelligence and information and communication technologies, must leave no one behind, including women and children. 

Those who bear the brunt of the the negative effects of exclusion, poverty, inequality, and underdevelopment produced by the current global economic landscape, are mostly women and girl children. The Speaker made a plea to all Parliaments to ensure that their respective governments provide budgets that prioritise gender mainstreaming in order to address gender imbalances. Speaker Mbete said the world will not be ready to embrace and make the best of opportunities brought by science and technology if it continued to exclude women 

Making reference to the UNICEF findings and population projections about the African population constituting 25% of the world population by 2050, Speaker Mbete said STEM education should be central with a deliberate focus on women and girl children for the African continent to reap its demographic dividend.  She described as a positive development, the South African National Research Foundation’s increase of funding for post graduate students doing science, technology and innovation research by 76% in the 2016/17 financial year.

She decried the fact that it took 55 years for a woman, Dr Donna Strickland, to be honoured with a Noble Prize in Physics, while Dr Frances Arnold became the fifth women to be awarded the Noble Prize in Chemistry. She said so much more needed to be done to accelerate the entry of women and girl children into areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics traditionally regarded as men’s domain.

The 139thAssembly of the IPU was officially opened today by the President of the IPU. Also held today was a series of meetings by statutory structure of the IPU including the Governing Council, the Standing Committee on Democracy and Human Rights, the Standing Committee on Peace and International Security, the Standing Committee on Sustainable Development, Finance and Trade, the Forum of Young Parliamentarians, as well as the Association of Secretaries General of Parliament. The eight-member high level delegation of the South African Parliament participated in these forums. 

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Republic of South Africa: The Parliament.

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