Wetenschap - 22 oktober 1998

International Page

International Page

International Page
Gender bias evident on World Rural Women's Day
The absence of men from the afternoon panel discussion for World Rural Women's Day at de Wereld last week was striking. Other than a brief visit by the WUB photographer, only one man was brave enough to stay for part of the session, and he left at the coffee break. This absence gives an indication of the problem, remarked Patricia Howard-Borjas, Professor of the Gender Studies chair group in Wageningen, Women take on all the responsibility for working on gender equality while it should be a priority of both men and women.
Officially established in 1995, World Rural Women's Day was made October 15th, the day before World Food Day, in order to highlight the contribution of rural women to food security and rural development. The UN estimates that 50-70% of all agricultural work is carried out by women in Africa and Asia. According to the FAO, rural women suffer the most from poverty and food insecurity due to their inferior socio-economic status, and insufficient recognition for their key roles as food producers, household and environmental managers
According to Rita Tesselaar, Senior Policy Officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, governments and international donors are now devoting more attention to gender issues. The involvement of a gender expert is considered to be an important factor for project success in rural agricultural development, Tesselaar reported, and the ministry now employs 21 full-time gender specialists. The Dutch ministry is better than most, according to Howard-Borjas, who finds that more training programmes are needed in gender, agriculture and rural development in order to improve food security initiatives. Most of us are working in institutions where gender bias is totally intrinsic. We need to know how to intervene in institutions to change this.
Sarah Tisch, from the US-based Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development, focused on the problems encountered when projects are designed to combat rural poverty without looking at the needs of rural women. Projects usually focus on economic goals like raising household income, but they do not recognise the informal activities that women engage in daily in order for their families to survive. When a project brings in a new activity, women's workloads tend to increase because they take on more tasks in the formal economy, and moreover total household income frequently does not increase
Maize Breeding Programme in China
Yiching Song obtained her PhD on October 14th. Aptly, the day before World Rural Women's Day, as one of the main conclusions from her thesis, New Seed in Old China, is that the needs of women are not included in formal breeding programmes promoting improved maize production. In southeastern China, a region with high rural poverty and where maize is a staple food crop, 85-90% of agricultural activities are now carried out by female farmers as males migrate in search of other employment. In spite of this changing situation, Song found that extension workers still sought out males in the region rather than women farmers due to patriarchal traditions. In her survey of 200 farmers in two regions, Song found that women were rejecting the single-cross maize hybrids promoted by the government in favour of a wide range of open-pollinating varieties. While promotional efforts concentrated on high yields, including an extension package from the government, farmers had other priorities, including food quality, local environmental adaptability like drought resistance, low external inputs, time and labour costs, and risk management. Song concluded that the failures of breeding programmes were due to institutional constraints, which fail to take women farmers' needs into account
Wageningen to host next international student symposium
The budget has been provisionally agreed for Wageningen University's ISP (International Student Panel) to organise a second Symposium for international students studying in the Netherlands next year. A proposal including a budget will be sent to Vice-Rector Bert Speelman for final approval. Besides this, Speelman agreed to provide funding towards the proposed platform for national cooperation and communication between the various international student programmes. Christiaan Loef, who gave a presentation on behalf of the ISP at last month's first Symposium in Den Haag, has asked the student organisers to include an announcement of these plans in their final report of the proceedings of the first Symposium
International Students positive about Wageningen
A recent survey conducted by international students as part of a research methods course, found that 85% of the sample of 66 international students feel positive about their first two months in Wageningen. Most students interviewed were from MSc programmes, followed by PhD and exchange students. According to course lecturer, Loes Maas, even though the questionnaire has been redesigned every year (for the last five years) by new students, the same hot topics keep coming back: cycling, corridor life and language
Almost half of the students interviewed do not cycle regularly in their home countries. For many, biking is not culturally acceptable because of inappropriate terrain or because it is a negative status symbol. But most (83%) stated that they liked cycling in Wageningen as a means of getting about. (This, however, coming before the cold winter weather.)
There were mixed reactions to corridor-life. Problems cited are lack of cleanliness and language conflicts, caused for instance by not being able to understand Dutch television. Just over half of the sample never eats or watches television together with corridor-mates. However, those who are the only international student in a corridor rated corridor-life higher than those with more than one fellow international student
For only one student in the sample is English the first language. English poses some communication problems for 40%. Almost half of the students make some effort to learn basic Dutch, and feel better about living in Wageningen than those who do not make an effort
Although the sample did not include Dutch students (17% of the 199 MSc students registered by September), it is representative of international MSc students. According to the Dean's office, the regional origins of non-Dutch students are as follows: Africa (35%), Europe (27%, with half of these from Eastern Europe), Asia (24%) and Latin America (15%)
New secretary for FSCG
The first meeting of the season of the Foreign Student Consultation Group (FSCG) took place on October 9th, attended by the new secretary, Norbert Degenhardt. Degenhardt will work one day a week for the FSCG, and three days a week in a similar position for the Dutch student council. His reaction to his first meeting: The international student group works very differently from the Dutch student council. It's much less formal, and in my opinion easier to get proposals passed by vice-rector Bert Speelman. Of course, they also seem to deal with less complex issues than with the Dutch students, he adds. The FSCG, which includes three members of the ISP (International Student Panel), is the formal body through which international MSc and exchange students can voice their concerns and needs to the university. It was set up last spring, and this was its third meeting

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