Science - March 12, 2015

Petition to keep gender minor

Yvonne de Hilster

The minor on Gender aspects of sustainable food systems and two related courses are under threat. At the beginning of March a Master’s student launched a petition to prevent their disappearance

The petition has already been signed by more than a hundred people from Wageningen UR and elsewhere. Initiator Yélica Rudolffi, a student of International land and water management, is very pleased with the support: ‘If we don’t do anything, there will soon be fewer gender courses and you will then see them all disappearing.’ She herself experienced the importance of the threatened courses. ‘Rural gender studies opened my eyes and taught me to really understand how food production works.’ According to Rudolffi, other courses only touch on ‘gender’ superficially.

Rudolffi does not understand why a university would want to scrap gender courses when it works with many developing countries where gender studies are particularly important. ´This does nothing to contribute to what the university tells others it aims to do: improve the quality of life for both men and women.’ The petition is addressed to Tiny van Boekel, director of the Educational Institute (OWI). He explains why the minor is under threat: ‘Minors are intended as instruments of innovation in education. They are not directly linked to a degree programme, are funded from outside the programme, and are initially guaranteed for five years.’

After this trial period there is an evaluation, looking at how many students a minor attracts. Minors which attract a lot of interest are integrated into existing programmes. Others disappear again. ‘We cannot avoid seeing now that the minor in question has attracted very few students,’ says Van Boekel. No more than a handful of students signed up for the entire minor each year, and the two threatened courses tended to attract 15-20 students. Van Boekel understands Rudolffi’s concern that all gender courses will disappear. ‘The OWI management realizes that attention to gender is important in the programmes. It is just that we are not managing to put this into practice yet.’ According to Van Boekel, things were not made any easier by the retirement in 2013 of Anke Niehof as professor of the Sociology of consumers and households. She felt responsible for the gender aspect in the degree programmes. ‘The discussion on how we get out of this is inconclusive as yet.’