The History Of WiEBE

History Background and Strategy

Women in science, engineering and technology (SET) have gained increased prominence on the international political agenda due to their current and potential impact on sustainable development and democracy.  At the 2005 World Summit the United Nations Millennium Development Goals were confirmed and goal three is the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women across the globe by 2015. The attraction, education and retention of women in SET are paramount to the socio-economic development of all countries. The Centre for Research on Science, Engineering and Technology in South Africa found that women represent fifty two percent of the African population. In South Africa, female students constitute fifty three percent of all higher education enrolments and fifty eight percent of first degree graduates. At postgraduate level, however, fewer than half of all enrolments and graduates are female. The number of female student doctoral enrolments and graduates are the lowest in the Natural Sciences and Engineering sectors. Women are under-represented in SET industry, and in academia women represent less than thirty percent of the workforce. 

In recent years several social programmes – programmes that are organised, planned and continually improved to promote women’s participation in higher education and industry - have been launched in Sub-Saharan Africa. These human service interventions relate to broad-based gender education and empowerment as well as to women in SET. The programmes include: the Women in Engineering and the Built Environment Programme (WiEBE) at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa; South African Women in Engineering; the Gender Centre at the University of Dar es Salaam and the Gender Dimension Unit at Ardhi University, both in Tanzania; the Botswana Technology Centre; and the Gender Training and Research Programme at the University of Namibia.

Despite the emergence of social programmes focused on gender, the low number of Sub-Saharan women studying SET at higher education level and working in the SET sector remains problematic.


The Women in Engineering and the Built Environment programme (WiEBE) at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) was initiated in 2006 in response to the lack of a national, coherent programme that supports both students and professional women in SET in South Africa.  In 2009 the University agreed to a partnership with Group Five to host the programme.  The Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment hosts approximately seven thousand students studying towards qualifications in engineering science, engineering technology and the built environment. In 2009, 25% of the undergraduate students were female. The number of female staff is fewer than 10% of the total number of academics in the faculty.  The WiEBE Programme is an example of a broadly focused higher education institution social programme specifically targeting school girls, teachers, female students, woman academics, woman industry professionals and males in SET.

The UJ-Group Five WiEBE Programme has three primary objectives: firstly to attract women students to the faculty to continue their studies in engineering or the built environment; secondly to provide a support network for professional and academic women engineers and built environment professionals; and thirdly to market the faculty as a source of graduate women engineers to industry. Our vision is to support and develop professional women in industry and to become the preferred faculty for young women to study higher degrees in engineering and the built environment.

The WiEBE programme has four target audiences: professional engineers and built environment practitioners; current students; secondary school learners; and community. Several interventions are planned each year to strengthen these areas and attain tangible objectives in each.

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