Mrs. Elsbeth Akkerman - Ambassador of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands addresses at the Ceremony
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentleman,
Thank you for the invitation to this great event. An event on which we celebrate the many scientific contributions of the Viet Nam National University of Agriculture, and especially those of your female scientists. On behalf of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, I want to sincerely congratulate Professor Nguyen Thi Lan on her receiving of the Kovalevskaya Award this Monday. Furthermore, our congratulations go out to the nine women and four men of the Environmental Technology sub-department for receiving the Kovalevskaya Award for their research on waste treatment technology and environment quality analysis.
How befitting that one of our activities on this celebratory day, is the planting of trees. As the core concept of all agriculture, performing the act of planting, is to look to the future. Through the wonderful work of nature, a tree will grow, blossom and spread it’s seeds, ensuring the growth of other trees and therefore propelling life. In this same manner, we can see the growth of academic knowledge. Your scientific work, very much like the tree, inspires, shapes and propels new research, which in turn provides us with new valuable insights that enable us to create a better world.
Today is not only special because we recognize and celebrate your contributions to the propelling of your many academic fields. Today is also special because we highlight the fundamental importance of the role that women play in this process. Your work and the accreditation it received this week, constitutes the greatest proof that we need female scientists in every field. In academics, there is and should never be a single vision. Someone will develop a thesis, another will develop and antitheses, and the combination of these leads to a synthesis, which in turn can become the new thesis, whereby the process starts all over again. It is the most all-encompassing way to come to knowledge. The valuable contributions of female scientists do not only diversify the field, enabling the science as a whole to be more inclusive and complete. But they also allow for different perspectives on our shared reality. Your work is a testimony to all great women that came before you. And an example for all those who come after.
In the Netherlands, we had a great woman to serve as such an example. Her name was Aletta Jacobs and she lived in a time when it was impossible for women to study. The seventeen year old Aletta did not conform to these societal norms and in 1871 wrote a letter to the Dutch prime-minister, asking why she could not study and was not allowed to use her brain. Unable to find an answer to this fair question, the prime-minister allowed her to pursue her academic dreams, and young Aletta enrolled in University of Groningen to study Medicine. Being the only female university student in the country, she followed her courses in a male orientated and dominated environment. In order to ‘not distract’ her male classmates, young Aletta spend most of her classes behind a specially designed curtain in the back of the classroom. It was from behind this curtain that she learned, studied and eventually became a Doctor. Until today she is an example for women in the Netherlands, to never let someone tell you that you cannot or should not want to achieve something. In this manner, Aletta Jacobs was the first ‘tree’ of her kind, that has since then propelled many more.
Four generations later, however, we do not yet see enough of these trees in the huge forest that is the academic world. Despite the efforts of strong women all around the world, women are still often expected to run a family and house-hold life. The fact that women are able to engage in academic studies besides carrying the weight of societal traditions, is sobering and inspiring at the same time. It is sobering to see that women are still not equally represented in many work sectors. That women are able to study is a hurdle that we have overcome (though not everywhere), but a scenario in which women are able to do something with their achieved knowledge proves a more difficult hurdle. In this respect, your work is of the upmost importance. Inspiring, it is one the other hand, to know that despite the many difficulties, there are women such as yourself, that manage to achieve success. The notion that women are able to simultaneously lead a successful family- and professional-life, is one from which we can draw strength and empowerment. You are the new trees of knowledge, that will propel your fields, not only in terms of science, but also in terms of society and gender-equality. In this process, the Netherlands was, is and will be a long standing partner of your university. With various connections between our Agricultural Science hubs as Wageningen and your Viet Nam National University of Agriculture. Under the Orange Knowledge Program we plant the seeds for institutional cooperation. The launching of which will be emphasized during the visit of our Prime Minister Rutte, in the beginning of April.
With the tree we plant later today, let’s also plant the seeds for a new generation of great scientists, male and female. Let’s plant the seeds for an ever more inclusive academic society and let’s plant the seeds for a future in which men and women, unhindered by societal role-expectations, can find scientific breakthroughs to help us face the many challenges of our rapidly changing world.
Thank you for your time