Address by Mr Trevor Manuel, MP, Minister in the Presidency: National Planning Commission, on the occasion of South African Women in Science Awards, Southern Sun Hotel, Ekurhuleni
13 Aug 2010
Programme director, Dr Pamela Dube
Minister Naledi Pandor
Deputy Minister Derek Hanekom
Director-general of science and technology
Representatives of co-sponsors of women in science
Ladies and gentlemen
I am indeed pleased to be here with you this evening, and to be able to address you on this auspicious occasion. I want to thank all women in science in South Africa and congratulate all the nominees for this evening's awards.
Ahead of us are significant challenges that will demand the attention and intellect of all of us, but especially of those best equipped to read the moment and respond appropriately and who better than our women in science?
In just over 700 days, the seventh billion human being will join us on the planet. She is likely to be girl child and to be born in a developing country, probably in Asia or Africa. What shall we tell her, as soon as she's able to comprehend our words? What would be her life expectancy, would it be the 83 years that Europeans and some East Asians now enjoy, or will it be the 37 years that Zimbabweans do? What will we tell her about inequality in income distribution?
For what kind of employment, if any, should she prepare herself? What shall we know of her risk to the exposure of disease? Will malaria still remain the threat that it is? We have just seen the return of polio? How much of a risk will this be in her lifetime? And has the risk of smallpox been eliminated for all time?
What about the public services that she will have access to?How much progress would her country have made towards the attainment of the millennium development goals? How many years of schooling should she expect? What about her access to public health care? How equal or unequal will her society be as she develops?
And what shall we tell her of the state in which we have left the earth? Would we, by the time of her 10th birthday, have contained our carbon dioxide emissions at the current rate of 430 parts per million? Or if it increases, where will it peak? What would the impact thereof be on climate in her part of the world?
Might she expect to be impacted upon by the extensive monsoon flooding that we are now witnessing in Pakistan, or the fire ravages such as we are seeing in Russia?
What, indeed, will we tell her of her access to resources like clean air and water? What would be her chances of ever eating a fish caught wild from sea? What about the many species of bird life that would have gone the way of the dodo?How real will biodiversity be in her part of the world?
Let me share with you a bit about just one aspect of all of this, namely, water. There is clearly insufficient water to sustain the lifestyle that too many of us have become accustomed to. "The amount of moisture on earth has not changed. The water the dinosaurs drank millions of years ago is the same water that fall as rain today" (according to National Geographic).
The difference is that there are now almost seven billion of us. And, of the earth's moisture, only 0.8 percent is fresh, and only a percentage of that is potable. Since we have not managed the processes of industrialisation the water that does reach us tends to be too unpredictable, it reaches us as floods, hurricanes, rising sea levels, melting glaciers or it stays away, starving the earth of much needed moisture.
And, when we have it, we consume it at alarming rates. I am not referring merely to the purer form for drinking. Far scarier is the hidden water consumption in everything we consume.
Now, in an endeavour to have you share, your dinner with me this evening, let me tell about water and beef, one kilogram of beef needs 14 982 litres of water for its production; it would have consumed three kilograms of grain for feed, plus the irrigation water for that grain; it would have needed 16.4 kilograms of roughage or grasses for feed plus the irrigation water for the grasses and that single kilogram of beef would have needed 70.5 litres of additional water for drinking and processing.
Now, having convinced you to become vegetarian right here and now, let me tell you how much water a bushel of wheat or a kilogram of beans consumes in its production; no, let’s not go there.
I raise this not as a turn-off, but as a challenge. The resource challenge is the biggest of all staring at us. It is a challenge that demands that the scientists amongst us approach it with enthusiasm and vigour.
We know that science is not neutral in respect of class or purpose. Too much of scientific research is paid for by corporations that seek to maximise the fruits thereof. In the consequence, the issues that matter particularly to poor people do not benefit from the same extent of scientific enquiry as the problems that confront the rich.
Nowhere is this more evident than in medical research. It is for this reason that I would applaud the breakthrough by Doctors Quarraisha Abdool Karim and her husband, Prof Salim Abdool Karim for the successful tests on the microbicide gel. The gel, as developed, empowers women, it gives them control over their lives and that is the success we should applaud.
Scientific breakthroughs, ought to be understood in terms of who it empowers. There appears to be no shortage of avenues for research, and apparently no real shortage of research grants, if the scientists are happy to place the results at the benefit of the few. And so, we must continue to campaign for space for scientists whose orientation is the service of broader humanity, particularly the poor.
This is one of the strongest motivations for the development of more women in science, and an even stronger motivation for the recruitment of women from poor backgrounds into science. Women have a much better grasp of the nature of the problems to be solved. And they're frankly much more practical than us men.
A few days ago, we attended the book launch of a dear comrade, Ronnie Kasrils, who wrote this book about his late wife. There he regaled us with stories about how much better a revolutionary she was because of her practical sense.
He recalled this one incident when they were to rob an explosives store to steal half-a-ton of dynamite, the macho guys had all kinds of schemes for how they would break the door down. Eleanor went to the store, saw the padlock, recorded the number and promptly went to the hardware store to buy a similar one and the key fitted. So, practical sense is an important part of discovery.
We must work to overturn the archaic notions that have kept sufficient women from the frontiers of discovery. So seldom do we even pause to question the origins of this perversity, the novelist Charlotte Perkins Gilman reminds us that, "the original necessity for the ceaseless presence of the woman to maintain the altar fire and it was an altar fire in very truth at one period, has passed with the means of prompt ignition; the matchbox has freed the housewife from that incessant service, but the feeling that women should stay at home, is with us yet". She wrote those words in 1860.
This is now 150 years later and we still do not have nearly sufficient women in science. Somewhere in the 18th century, Johann Wolfgang van Goethe wrote, "None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe that they are free".
Let us accept that women are not yet free. Let us make the commitment to that liberation together. Let us measure that freedom in the enrolment of girl children in schools. Let us advance that freedom with progress in the teaching of mathematics and science.
Let us commit to opening the doors of learning fully to all of our youth. And may you continue to be the role models that our young will want to emulate. Let us together understand the place of science in freedom.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to share this evening with you. My warmest congratulations go to this year's winners.
Issued by: The Presidency
13 Aug 2010
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