South African women make up the majority of enrolments in public higher education institutions almost every year, but sadly, many of these female students are steering clear of engineering, construction and science courses.

This was revealed in the first ever Status of South African Women in the Economy report compiled by the Department of Women and released by president Jacob Zuma on Monday.

The report looks at the standings of women in education, the labour market, poverty and equality, the impact of violence against women and their access to credit, land and property.

Findings on education between 2008 to 2010 reveal that women consistently made up more than 50 per cent of enrolments in higher education institutions across the country every year, with the figure for 2010 standing at 57 per cent.

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However, when it comes to enrolment into masters and doctoral qualifications, men tend to dominate.

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“Given high proportions of enrolments for undergraduate and lower-level post-graduate qualifications, there should be no reason – besides possible differences in success rates at these levels – why the enrolment of women in higher degrees cannot be increased relative to that of men,” the report said.

After university, the numbers are equally disheartening, as only 40 per cent of South Africa’s scientists, engineers and technologists are women, according to the Association of South African Women in Science and Engineering.

The course graduate rate in undergraduate and postgraduate studies among both genders from 2010 to 2012 was fairly high, consistently standing at over 73 per cent of enrolled women during all three years and between 67 per cent and 74 per cent of enrolled men.

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A look a which fields women enrolled in in 2012 shows that services came out on top with 79.3 per cent of the share of graduates being female, while science (49 per cent), agriculture (48.6 per cent) and engineering (28.5 per cent) made up the bottom three.

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“Although the third highest field that women graduate from is health and welfare, which would include medicine, it is difficult to determine how many are graduating with a high skill degree,” the report stated. “Women tend to gravitate towards gender-defined fields and this may indicate that women are graduating as nurses or health workers, rather than in high-degree specialisation areas.”

“There is a clear need for concerted efforts at ensuring greater gender equality in terms of specialisations, with interventions required across the education system and not just within secondary and post-secondary education,” the report added. “As part of these efforts, it may prove important to address gender norms related to “appropriate fields” of study, as well as to address contexts and institutional climates within employers as this may be one of the factors discouraging women from entering these fields.”

[Source – Department of Women, Image – Twitter]