H3D celebrates women in science to mark our National Women’s Day

9 Aug 2020 - 07:45
Women protesting the proposed pass laws on 9 August 1956 in Pretoria (Photo credit: South African History Online)


20 000 South African women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on this day in 1956 to protest the pass laws which required women of colour to carry a passport during the apartheid era.

In the many years since that protest, the rights of women in South Africa have come a long way, although many challenges still remain. The Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields are still dominated by men, however, like Marie Curie, our female scientists have the relentless resolve and an insatiable curiosity that will only serve to progress the rights of women in the sciences and in our society.

To mark the day, we asked our female scientists at H3D to reflect on their experiences and offer their advice.

Girls and women are often told that science is a men's field. I don't think we are less capable. We may have a different approach but we also have ideas. And we can be very efficient.

Dr Claire le Manach, senior investigator


I was once told by a senior scientist that if I wasn't married by the time I got my PhD that it would be unlikely that I would after that. This was a very daunting thing to be told at all of 21 and only enhanced the stereotype of the cold spinster female scientist. Being both very stubborn and very passionate about science I continued regardless and have been pleasantly surprised by how wrong that stereotype is. The culture of science is changing; what was once exclusively a boys club that required total life devotion is now a diverse environment that is beginning to encourage healthy work-life boundaries. While there is still a long way to go, it is great to know that as a female scientist you no longer have to choose between a career and a family if that's something you desire. I'm learning that I can have the life I create the space for and still be a solid researcher. Despite being constantly challenging, I love working in STEM. Being a woman in STEM has been an interesting and intense journey that has grown me as a person more that I thought possible. I'm grateful that for the most part I have been very supported. I have no doubt that having that level of support has gotten me where I am and as a result I am very conscious about actively supporting other scientists - especially fellow women in STEM. 

Dr Jean Dam, Investigator



Photo credit: Natasha Dzhola / © Culture Trip


Don't let anyone use the excuse of you being a woman to limit your aspirations, whether in science, in sports, in art or in life. Noone can tell you what you'd like to be or to achieve. You're the only person who knows so go for it!

Dr Claire le Manach, Senior Investigator


Research is hard and great science cannot be done alone. It is so important to be plugged into a network of people (both male and female) who can provide encouragement, guidance and inspiration. You need to have people who can be a sounding board and who can help you clarify and achieve your goals. I have met such incredible female scientists who inspire and support me and am lucky to have a close group of friends in STEM who understand the demands and stresses and are a fantastic sounding board. It's also important to have friends outside of STEM who keep you plugged into the world - it's easy to get consumed in your work and having non-STEM connections helps keep you rooted. The other piece of advice I would give is to always be someone who is teachable. Working in STEM will humble you regularly. Be open to learning new things. Be open to asking for help. Be open to different ways of doing things. Learning from others will expose you to different ways of thinking and elevate your own research.

Dr Jean Dam, Investigator


Women are our greatest resource. Let us encourage one another and our young girls that a career in STEM is not only possible but the doorway to social, political and educational change.


 Wathint Abafazi Wathint Imbokodo! (you strike a woman, you strike a rock)

Article by Alacia Armstrong