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[BEIJING] South Africa's minister of science and technology, Naledi Pandor, has called for more incentives to support and recognise the role of women in scientific research.

Without such incentives, Pandor said, "significant change is unlikely to take place". She was speaking at the Women Scientists in a Changing World conference organised by the Third World Organisation of Women Scientists (TWOWS).

Around 600 women from Africa, Asia, Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East attended the TWOWS fourth General Assembly and the four-day conference hosted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in Beijing last month (27–30 June).

"In most of the developing world, women's scientific skills and abilities are still underutilised," Pandor said, adding that women are still under-represented in top managerial and policy positions in science, technology and innovation (ST&I).

"The challenge for Africa and the developing world is to ensure that the gender imbalance in the practice of ST&I activities is addressed," she said.

A statement from the conference urged governments and the scientific community to fully support and encourage women's participation in ST&I and engineering.

Although conditions for women scientists have been improving in much of the developing world, there is still considerable room for progress towards full equality with men and full access to education for girls, it said.

Working conditions for women scientists vary in the developing world. Many women pursue science careers in countries like China, Cuba and India.

But in many African countries, even basic education in the sciences is lacking for girls. Lu Yongxiang, president of the CAS, said there was "the need to create better legislative and policy measures, research and education infrastructure, and a better social and cultural environment". 

"[It's time for] less speeches and more concrete action" said Pandor. Her ministry is taking innovative steps to recruit, retain and promote women scientists.

The TWOWS, which changed its name at the meeting to Women in Science for the Developing World, was formed in 1989 to promote women to positions of scientific leadership and to help direct their skills towards solving problems faced by their societies.

Its doctoral fellowships to students from the 'least developed countries' have helped 82 women achieve PhDs since 1998.

Twelve young women scientists were honoured with TWOWS awards at the event which provided South–South networking opportunities to attendees.  

For many women this was the first international conference they had attended outside their countries.