Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes
“This is not a women's issue”
MAASTRICHT. The procession is different this time. The opening of the academic year is always marked by a procession of professors from the Minderbroedersberg to the Vrijthof Theatre. A procession of important men and an occasional woman, because that’s the way it is in the world of academia.
This time, things are different. “They had asked the ladies to walk in front. And that’s exactly what we did!” Professor Trudy van der Weijden from Family Medicine laughs heartily about it. Together with her robed colleagues, she rushes down the steps in the hall towards the reserved seats at the front. Women in academia is the theme of the opening ceremony Monday afternoon, 1 September. In the morning, it was the subject of a number of lectures, in the afternoon it was a little less prominently incorporated in the programme, except in the keynote speech by Cambridge professor Jennifer Barnes. She gives an eloquent and in particular an inspired talk against one-sidedness in the debate on gender and equality. It is true, she says, “being born a woman puts you at a statistical disadvantage in life. By any measure, beginning with wages and promotion, to the unimaginable violence and inhumanity towards girls in certain parts of the world.” But, she continues, look at the role men play, or have to play. “I was struck when I watched the footage of World War One recently, reel after reel of young soldiers, all of them men, walking in uniform towards the role history assigned them.” It’s the stereotyping that’s the problem, says Barnes. Many women can bear pain better than men, but they don’t get the chance to prove that, except in childbirth. “History has done women a disservice, to allocate fortitude, decisiveness and bravery to men, and insight and compassion to women. We need to recognise that both genders have the capacity for all these qualities.” Besides, the world has become a great deal more reasonable than it was: most men acknowledge the qualities of their female colleagues, the majority is not sexist at all. This was the reason for her appeal at the end of her speech: disfavouring and inequality exists, so, men, “speak out. This is not a women's issue, it is a human issue and your voice will make a difference.”