The African Union has opened the First Conference of African Women in Science and Technology in Johannesburg, South Africa. The three-day conference, which began Wednesday, brings together leading female scientists to discuss their role in science and technology in Africa?s development. 

Botlhale Pema is advisor on African affairs at the South African Department of Science and Technology.  From Johannesburg, she told VOA that one purpose of the conference is to bring more African women into the science and technology fields.

?The conference brings together scientists from all 53 AU member states, and the idea is to come and examine the sectors that limit greater participation of women in science and technology and to try and come up with a program towards solution for it,? she said.

Botlhale said although the conference is the first of its kind, the African Union had recently been looking at the issue of under-representation of women in science and technology.

?Last January, we had a summit of heads of state and governments and they had the theme of science and technology for Africa?s development, and one of the decisions that was taken was that we need to grow the constituency for science and technology to have more women and youth participating in doing science and technology. And therefore this conference is a follow up to that. We have now called on, under the umbrella of the African Union, all African women representatives of scientists from different member states to come and discuss this matter,? Botlhale said.

Although women make up over 50 percent of Africa?s population, yet they have lagged behind in almost every sector of society in terms of representation. Botlhale said the same could be true in the science and technology sectors.

?I think in the first place, what we realize is that we actually lack the statistics to even measure how many women are participating. But on the whole, if I can speak for South Africa, women in the area represent only about 36 percent. So we feel that there is need to give this area more focus and actually to do the research to find out the statistics to find out what are the limiting factors to develop programs toward alleviating the problem,? she said.

The Conference of African Women in Science and Technology also hopes to identify African women who would serve as role models for women seeking to further their studies in the areas.

Botlhale said the conference also hopes to have regional and continental associations of women in science and technology.

?The very women that have been called here are role models themselves because they have succeeded in a field that is very slippery. The idea is that they are going to go back to their countries and develop the program that we are talking about to try and motivate young people and to mentor young people not just as individuals but to work towards a national association of women in science and technology, and we?re also hoping to have even a regional and continental association of women in science and technology,? Botlhale said.

She said it is not too late for the African Union to actively encourage women in the study of science and technology.

?African Union is determined to see to Africa?s development, and they will look at all aspects of development and women happen to be an important element in the development program of Africa,? Botlhale said.

Botlhale said the African Union, through the Second Decade of Education, has identified science and technology as an important area that needs to be highlighted in curricula around the continent.