30 September 2021 Volume :9 Issue :42

Phytomedicine Experts Expound on the Power of Women

Phytomedicine Experts Expound on the Power of Women
From left: Ms Yanga Mhlomi, Ms Clarissa Naidoo, Miss Kashmira Raghu, Dr Depika Dwarka, Professor Yougasphree Naidoo, and Dr Nimisha Singh.

Professor Yougasphree Naidoo, an expert in cellular biology in the Laboratory for Medicinal Plant Research in the School of Life Sciences, was joined at the African Fashion International’s (AFI) Power to Empower event by two of her PhD candidates, Ms Clarissa Naidoo and Ms Yanga Mhlomi, with the trio being interviewed on topics of power, empowerment and mentorship.

Bringing the curtain down on South Africa’s Women’s Month in August, the hybrid event took place online and in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. Joining in from the Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga, the three UKZN women spoke about building their personal power and empowering others.

The conversations were led by AFI founder and CEO Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, with guests including Harvard’s Professor Julie Battilana who authored Power, for All; Secretary General of FIFA Madame Fatma Samoura; Group CEO of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange Dr Leila Fourie; and Chairperson of Anglo-American Ms Nolitha Fakude, who is the author of Boardroom Dancing.

The event linked to AFI’s Fastrack programme and its emphasis on the importance of mentorship and role-modelling across every sector, highlighs women who lead by example and actively develop and mentor the next generation of women leaders.

Professor Naidoo, whose expertise includes plant secretory biology, the properties of medicinal plants, ecophysiological research of halophytic plants, and microscopy, is a prolific author and has prioritised the supervision of students, interns and postdoctoral researchers to develop the next generation of plant scientists.

Mhlomi is doing PhD research on the medicinal properties of chrysanthemoides monilifera (L.) T. Norlindh - commonly known as tickberry or itholonja. She hopes her research will contribute to new knowledge, and that work done on isolated bioactive compounds from the plant might lead to a new drug discovery.

Having always had an interest in plants and aware of the growing burden of disease worldwide, Mhlomi chose to explore what she calls the hidden gems that nature offers through the medicinal properties of plants.

‘As a Black South African woman in science, I hope to establish a voice for not just myself, but one that represents the strength, capability and struggles of women in any field - women are capable of any field of work and we are all equal,’ she said.

During her interview, Mhlomi said that power meant having the ability to be in control and confident, to seek help where needed, to inspire, encourage and be motivating, to be empathetic and sympathetic, humble, kind and respectful to everyone.

Mhlomi said the highlight of the event was the interaction with successful, motivational women - most notably former Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi - who overcame adversity and stood as an example for younger women. She also singled out Naidoo for making her PhD experience a memorable one, and providing motivation, guidance and a strong example. Mhlomi aspires to use her knowledge to motivate, empower, teach, and elevate her protégées in the same way.

In research for her PhD, Ms Clarissa Naidoo is investigating micromorphological characterisation, histo-phytochemical analysis and bioactivity of Tabernaemontana Ventricosa Hochst. ex AD.C. (Apocynaceae), known as the forest toad tree or uKhamamasane. Aiming to contribute to closing gaps in medicinal plant knowledge systems, Naidoo hopes to improve people’s wellbeing through knowledge on traditional medicines. Evaluating the therapeutic uses of the plant, she suggests it could be used to create home remedies and even scaled up for trade and job creation, or used by the pharmaceutical industry for herbal medicines.

Having been interested in plants and home remedies, from her third-year of study, Naidoo pursued therapeutic botany research.

While the number of females with higher degrees is on the rise, Naidoo said the scarcity of women in positions of authority in academia remained a challenge, and as a source of inspiration for others - highlighted Professor Naidoo and her achievements, which include a Lifetime Achievement Award for Medicinal Plants Research from the V. Sivaram Research Foundation and the Society for Conservation and Resource Development of Medicinal Plants in India, as a source of inspiration.

Naidoo said having the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of several successful women was gratifying and motivating and, during her interview, defined power as the ability to have control over resources and use one’s confidence and influence to do anything possible. Keen to mentor other young women, Naidoo emphasised the importance of mentorship to develop empowered, confident women.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Supplied

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