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Guide to Equal Opportunities: Inaugural Speech Natascha Notten

  • Friday 29 January 2021
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In her new role as professor of Healthy Society, Natascha Notten does not want to apply sticking plasters, but intends to tackle the real causes of inequality and its consequences for health and well-being. For, as the professor put it in her speech on Wednesday 3 February: "Only if our focus shifts to the causes and intergenerational transfer of opportunities can we start working preventively. Figures on inequality of opportunity are daunting. And the corona crisis will only widen that gap. But the professor is not discouraged by this - on the contrary - she points out all the opportunities that are available and the fact that (in)equality can be created: "Systems and therefore people create inequality, so as people we can also create opportunities to counteract this."

Inequality of opportunity is a deep-seated problem and the socio-economic differences between people can lead to a wide range of barriers in the area of health and well-being. Examples are poverty, low literacy and health inequalities. "With the emphasis", says the new professor, "on ability. For instance, we also come across people who grew up in poverty, but now live in good health or who have finally managed to buy their own house. So there is a connection, but it is not a general rule. And it is precisely these situations that are interesting for the professorship of Healthy Society and for our research. Because that's where the starting points are for successful prevention and equal opportunities.

Reversing the generational spiral

Socio-economic differences may, but need not, lead to more inequality in health and well-being. The professor does, however, offer an explanation for the fact that inequality has been able to spin its way through history - right up to the present day, even in a country as prosperous as ours: "Unequal opportunities are often passed on from parent to child, from generation to generation. So there is not only a link between the opportunities that someone gets and his or her socio-economic situation, but also a lifelong generational link. And within the university’s professorship of Healthy Society, we use this intergenerational transfer as an umbrella theme for our practice-based research."

Integral approach with guides as key figures

In addition to the transferability of inequality, the professorship wants to tackle the problem cohesively. For poverty, low literacy, educational inequality, health inequality and regional inequality cannot be seen as separate issues. Hence, no sticking plaster solutions to fix minor problems on the surface only, but really going to the roots. Notten gives an example: "For someone who is low-literate not only has difficulty applying for jobs (= fewer job opportunities), but also has trouble reading medical brochures (= health disadvantage) or understanding information provided by a teacher (= impediment to a child's educational opportunities). So this cycle needs to be broken, and guides are crucial in bridging the gap between higher- and lower-opportunity environments. Such guides - for example in buddy projects, but also teachers or family doctor's assistants - are key figures on the road to equal opportunities and play an important role in the mission of this professorship."

Equal opportunities through unequal support

With her research, Notten wants to contribute to a society that offers equal opportunities to all when it comes to well-being and health. Because unequal opportunities not only lead to financial inequality, but also to decisions with a negative impact on lifestyle choices and thus health, social participation and education. "We want to know what works in order to spot and seize opportunities, and we collect issues and stories from society - from those situations where opportunities are not abundant - in order to connect to the needs of the target group," says the professor. "One of my first initiatives was to hop on my bike and visit the nearest community centre. It's the only way to find out what people need and what support - call it unequal support for the creation of equal opportunities - you can offer them."

About the professor

Dr Natascha Notten became professor of Healthy Society at Windesheim University of Applied Sciences in 2020. Her expertise lies in the field of social inequality and intergenerational transfer of (un)equal opportunities. Notten studied sociology at Radboud University where she earned her PhD degree in 2011. She worked previously as a postdoc at the University of Amsterdam, as a university lecturer at Radboud University and as a demography strategist at Berkelland municipality. She is also the owner of the research and consulting agency Gelijkschap.

Natascha Notten's installation as professor of Healthy Society and her inaugural speech 'A Guide to Equal Opportunities' takes place online on Wednesday 3 February 2021 from 15.00 to 16.30 hours - fully Corona-proof.

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