Women’s Month is all about celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of our female leaders, heroes and icons. So, in this month of August, Maropeng is turning the spotlight on the women who are making a contribution to palaeosciences in South Africa.

Their work is to help us understand our human origins and make this branch of science accessible to all South Africans.

Here are some insights, career advice to budding palaeoscientists, and encouragement from some of the extraordinary South African women we work with in this field:

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a woman in your field and how have you dealt with them?

“Some people look down on you because you are a woman, but when you open your mouth and share all these amazing facts about the origins of humanity, you can tell that they never thought an African woman would be so knowledgeable about palaeontology. My smile does all the work. That’s how I deal with them.”

– Zodwa Mtshali, tourist guide

“Women are often highly scrutinised and doubted in all fields. I have had to learn to know when I am being used as a token or pawn in someone’s agenda, rather than being valued as an equal and capable colleague. It took me a long while to identify these occurrences and I have surrounded myself with colleagues and friends I trust and with whom I can discuss any challenges.”

– Rosa Matsileng Moll, PhD candidate in archaeology

What are the thoughts that go through your mind when you think about Women’s Day?

“There are now more women in this field than in the past, which proves that a woman is not meant to sit back and watch, but to fight until she makes it. We are made to be rock solid and untouchable. #Imbokodo.”

– Duduzile Sibisi, tourist guide

“There is nothing we can’t do … If you are lucky enough to be a part of something great, never let people or challenges keep you down and always know what you want. Follow your heart … We are strong enough to take on any challenge and nothing can stop us. Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo.”

– Zandile Ndaba, fossil excavator

“Women’s Day reminds humanity of the importance of gender equality in our society. No gender is superior to another. Because of our current patriarchal society, it is essential that we are reminded of the importance of women in society … It takes a lot of self-belief and courage to know that you are worthy of being in any space you want to be. No man (or woman) should dictate who you are and where you should be. Just do it. No one should ever tell you that you cannot be a professional in this field.”

– Dr Dipuo Kgotleng, director of the Paleo-Research Institute, University of Johannesburg

What is your advice to young women who want to follow your career path?

“Believe in yourself. A woman can do anything she sets her mind to. The world won’t meet you halfway – you have to kick doors down and hit hard walls by yourself. If you push yourself hard enough, you will succeed. Remember, it takes a woman to make it work.”

– Martiena van Adrichem, tourist guide

“Be a rhino. Strange thing to say, but to stick to your path and ‘make it’ you will have to develop a tough skin. Stay true to the path and charge through.”

– Keneiloe Molopyane, archaeologist/curator, Maropeng Visitor Centre and Sterkfontein Cave

“Recognise both your strengths and your weaknesses, and work with them. You might not be perfect, but no one is: and that is okay. Acknowledging that eases feelings of imposter syndrome, and allows you stand up for yourself. It also allows you to be gentler on others, and your expectations of them.”

– Kerryn Warren, dissertation coach and postdoctoral researcher