Women in male-dominated industries have a powerful story to tell about the role they play in society. Stories of perseverance, dedication and leadership. It is important that we celebrate their contributions and the impact that they have in their respective industries.
The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) field in South Africa, in particular, is one of the most important areas responsible for a thriving economy. Yet, it remains unequal in terms of female representation.
“Unfortunately, there is still an under-representation of women in STEM-related jobs in South Africa and globally,” says Cara-Jean Petersen, Student Engagement Manager at Feenix – an online crowdfunding platform for university students.
Statistics from UNESCO have revealed that only 23% of STEM talent is female, which has been supported by reports that indicate that the male to female STEM graduate ratio in South Africa is as imbalanced as it is in the rest of the world.
According to many universities, agriculture (ag technology / agrotechnology in particular) is becoming one of the biggest components of STEM focused departments and disciplines. Agriculture has become a major contributor to STEM jobs. The role women play is rapidly changing – taking on larger and more defined roles on farms and in agribusiness.
“Studies have shown that empowering women in STEM jobs adds tremendous value to families and communities, as women reinvest their earnings in education, health and food security,” Petersen explains.
One such student readying herself to enter the agriculture industry is Lungile Gumbi, a final year MSc Agriculture student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Gumbi is majoring in Horticulture – the agriculture of plants, mainly for food, materials, comfort and beauty for decoration. Horticulturists apply knowledge, skills and technologies to grow intensively produced plants for human food and non-food uses for personal or social needs.
She was unfortunately not in a position to pay her studies and pegged her hopes on getting a bursary. When her funding options fell through, Gumbi started looking for an alternative avenue to pay her studies and came across Feenix in 2020. To date, Gumbi was able to raise R6 483,17 of her goal, which is R50 622,83. She hopes to raise the rest throughout this academic year.
Gumbi explains how she has really grown to love the agricultural industry and strongly believes that investment in farming is the best weapon against poverty and hunger, especially in the rural communities of the country. “Farming is who I am. As a little girl I remember watching my grandfather farm. I told myself that I’m going to become a farmer to feed those in need and ultimately follow in his footsteps.”
Gumbi believes that there are excellent career opportunities in agriculture, food and natural resources that will require future leaders and professionals who can effectively execute 21st Century skills.
“While agriculture may be considered a male-dominated industry, technology and innovation have empowered women to enter the industry and play their parts in society,” says Gumbi. “I want to inspire young women in rural and underprivileged communities to follow their dreams and assure them that they can achieve anything through hard work and dedication.”
Petersen is confident that more women are becoming impactful leaders in the agricultural industry and in other STEM-related jobs.
“It is important that we support female farmers in staking their claim in the agriculture sector through the use of technology. This will help reduce poverty, ensure food security and boost the industry’s contribution to the economy,” she adds.
“Making women active participants in the STEM sectors of the economy will reap benefits that extend way beyond their livelihoods. This will go a long way to improving the lives of their families and communities too,” says Petersen.
Feenix was launched in June 2017 as a response to the #FeesMustFall movement that spread across campuses in South Africa during 2015 and 2016. This movement highlighted the extremely high cost of tertiary education and the impact that financial stress has on a student’s success rates. Feenix is a crowdfunding platform that connects communities; providing a tool for students to formalise their fundraising efforts and a channel for funders to find students they wish to support. The Feenix team is young, diverse and passionate about education. They believe that access to education should not be dependent on wealth. Feenix is also a member of the African Crowdfunding Association. Feenix is a Public Benefit Organisation (930057053) and is governed by a Trust (IT831/2017). Visit feenix.org for more information.