Women empowerment at the institutions of higher education in the country remains a challenge in terms of gender equity and other aspects according to Education Minister Naledi Pandor.
Speaking at the University of Cape Town, Ms Pandor said every higher education institution should devote attention to the task of ensuring gender equity.
"The position of women in higher education reveals fascinating features of ongoing problems and real indicators of positive change. Undoubtedly, we have made great strides in the transformation of our higher education institutions with respect to the gender and racial composition of the student body," she said.
Minister Pandor said just over 50 percent of the students in higher education were women and close on 75 percent were black students.
She added that of significance was the growing internationalisation of the student body.
Approximately 40 000 international students are enrolled for undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in public higher education institutions in South Africa, the majority coming from neighbouring countries.
She said while the overall composition of the student body was changing to be more reflective of the demographics, there was no room for complacency, since black women in particular remained under-represented in a number of key areas of study such as science, engineering and technology and in postgraduate studies more generally.
"Success rates of black students also remain lower than that of their white counterparts. Much work still needs to be done to address the access and success of women in higher education studies," she said.
She said her department had established an undergraduate scholarship programme to support women in fields of study where they were traditionally under-represented.
Two groups of approximately 50 students each had been recruited from public schools throughout the country, including the schools that had been earmarked for improved provision of maths and science teaching and learning.
Referring to National Women's Day, Ms Pandor said the day afforded women the opportunity to celebrate the advances made in South Africa over the past decade of democracy.
"It is also an occasion to commemorate and remember the struggles and sacrifices of the many women who fought for the freedoms and rights that we today enjoy and cherish.
"As we mark Women's Day, I also hope that we will use the occasion to reflect on the challenges that lie ahead to improve the quality of life for girls and women in our country," she said.
She added that it was important for policy makers to realise that socio-economic imperatives should not be used to compel all women to pursue science, commerce, and technology in higher education.