UCT Professor Heather Zar Recognised at Women in Science Awards

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By Praise Adejimi

This article can also be found in the print Edition 3 (Wrap Edition) of VARSITY Newspaper.


Professor Heather Zar was recently recognised along with other female researchers for her contributions to science, as a result, she received the L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Award for establishing a research programme on pneumonia, TB, and asthma. When asked what directed the focus of her research specifically to child health, Professor Zar spoke of the significance of this specific work of study, stating that, “In Africa I think we need to be much stronger advocates for pushing forward research that advances child health.”

Furthermore, not only was she recognised for her research, but by the receiving of an award in Science, she played a vital role in representing women. The significance of the representation of women stems from the gender inequality occurring in various fields, specifically in the field of Science. According to UNESCO, only 8% of science researchers are women and only 3% have been awarded Nobel Prizes for Science since 1901.

The lack of adequate representation in research work has been deemed to be quite problematic. According to UNESCO, less than 30% of researchers are women and as a result they hold very few academic leadership positions. This can impact the quality of research being produced and brings about stereotypes that society associates with women in research. “Studies show that the lack of diversity in the sector of artificial intelligence has led to the development of software that reproduces, or even magnifies stereotypes, especially those related to gender, “says UNESCO. Professor Zar believes that “stereotypes of women’s work and roles and a lack of broad understanding of what science is,” are certain factors that have led to the lack of adequate representation among women in her field. This is what the L’Oréal Foundation aims to do is to combat.

Consequently, Professor Zar’s Women in Science Award reinforces the goal of the L’Oréal-UNESCO foundation, to acknowledge as well as empower women for their outstanding work and key roles they play in society. “We need to rely on our collective intelligence, which also requires us to favour the talent, creativity and insight of women scientists. Our future will depend on our ability to benefit from every aspect of human genius in seeking innovative responses to the challenges we face,” stated UNESCO Director-General Audray Azoulay.

According to Professor Zar, women should not limit themselves. They should rather find something they’re passionate about and really interested in, strive for excellence, work and collaborate with others and should not be afraid to think out of the box and question.

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