It’s still a man’s world

9 Nov

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This is not the blog post I was hoping to write today.
I was hoping to write something about smashing the glass ceiling, about women and politics and milestone moments in history. About role models and the importance of ‘what you see, you can be’. I even selected a powerful picture to go with it.*

But the people of the United States chose differently.

Yesterday, around the same time voting started in the US, some of my students presented their research around the topic of women and violence. They compared the situation in the US, France and Yemen. I asked them what had shocked them most.

‘How little I knew about Yemen’, said one of them.

‘How a lot is being done to prevent it and still, the number of cases of violence against women keeps rising’, said someone else.

‘I actually find it shocking that none of this is shocking to me anymore’, said the third. ‘How I keep reading the most horrible things about FGM and honor killings and date rape and harrassment at college and I just think to myself: that’s just how it is. It’s almost like.. normal. ’

‘It’s still a man’s world’, another student agreed.

I was really hoping that yesterday’s elections would prove them wrong. That the results would show these promising young men and women that the glass ceiling is not unbreakable, and that in 2016, a woman can be elected US president.
But yesterday’s results proved me wrong, and I had to write another blog post than I thought I would. Thank you, America.

I decided to keep the picture though. Maybe all of us who still believe in equal opportunities, in gender parity, in representative democracy, in women in politics, should print it and put it up on our walls. May it serve as a gentle reminder that it’s still an awfully male and pale political landscape out there. And that there are only two ways we can change that: by voting for a female leader, or by becoming one.

*a picture of heads of state participating in the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands, where apart from Queen Maxima and Angela Merkel female leaders were few and far between

Dear America,

4 Nov

In a few days, you’ll get to decide which breaking news the world will witness: the first female president in the White House, or a man who reduces women to their bodies and ‘migrants’ to their religion, lineage or colour of their skin. Yes, ‘migrants’ between quotation marks. Because Mr Trump with his Scottish-German ancestors and his Slovenian wife is just as much a migrant as the ‘bad hombres’ he says he wants to keep out. But that’s another story.

A diabolic dilemma, you say? Choosing between two evils? See, I just don’t quite get that. What is so hard about choosing between an experienced, intelligent, competent woman, and a man who only last week called an African American supporter a thug, and had him removed from the venue. A man being accused of sexual violence by an ever longer list of women and brushes off his own bragging about it as locker room talk. A man who wants to ban muslims from entering your country and wants to build a wall to prevent Mexicans from entering. Should I go on? The list is long, very, very long.

Honestly, I don’t get how this guy of all people made it this far. Someone who filed for bankruptcy several times, who justifies tax evasion and is not afraid to openly question the legitimicy of the elections. Has America really sunk so low that this is the best you have to offer to the world? America, that always knows best what’s good for the rest of the word. Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya; you were the first to intervene, in the name of freedom, human rights and democracy. Not always quite successfully, but let’s not talk about that now. Now, we’re talking about power. And that goes far, very very far. In some countries it’s even easier to get a bottle of Coca Cola than clean drinking water. That’s how far it goes.

Why doesn’t she mind her own business, you may ask. Indeed, why don’t I. After all, we’re only talking about the next president of the United States, the self-proclaimed leader of the free world. With over 2 million troops and reserves and thousands of nuclear weapons, a few of which are even said to be stashed on Dutch soil. But hey, who am I, and those 7 billion world citizens within firing range of your weapons of mass destruction, but without voting rights in your country?

But what about Hillary Clinton and her e-mail issues, you may say. Her relations with Wall Street, dubious donations to the Clinton Foundation, her foreign policy? Not so smart, not so pretty, not something to be particularly proud of. But is it reason enough to call on people to vote for Trump, because you actually wanted to see Bernie Sanders in the White House? Really? Are you serious?

The land of the free and the home of the brave’. I really hope that turns out to be true next week. That you really have the courage to write history.

Dear America, please make America great again. But I mean really.

Kind regards on behalf of the rest of the world,

Kirsten van den Hul

New season, new class

22 Sep

What I most looked forward to, during my extended summer break? Meeting my new students. The excited anticipation, not so unlike the feeling I remember having when I myself as a student eagerly awaited my first class after summer, the ‘what shall I wear’, the ‘wonder how many of them there will be’..
And here I am, in front of my new group. 21 of them, from all over the world. All of them enrolled in an elective at The Hague University of Applied Science called ‘Women and Society’, which was developed by Ms Kitty Triest and which I’ve been blessed to teach as visiting lecturer for 3 years now.
This semester, we will explore important gender-related topics such as the gender pay gap, the glass ceiling, women and politics and gender based violence, as well as discuss the differences among the different countries.
And even though the details may vary regionally, one thing is painfully clear: it’s still a man’s world. No matter where you look, women still make considerably less, do considerably more house work and have considerably less political power. Did you know that worldwide, only 22.8 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women as of June 2016, and as of September 2016, only 10 women are serving as Head of State and 9 are serving as Head of Government? So much for representative democracy..
But all that is about to change, if you ask my students. ‘I want to be president of my country’, says one of them. ‘I want to be an MP’, says another. Why that matters, I ask them. ‘Because more women in politics means better policies for women.’ I couldn’t agree more.

Want to join the discussion? US-based NGO Ignite just launched a wonderful campaign to encourage young women to run for politics. Read more here, spread the word and #declareyourambition!

Sum-sum-summertime!

28 Jul

She did take her time, but now she’s finally here: the sweet sweet summer of ’16.
Time to switch off, kick back, relax and reflect in the light of the sun.
And in the mean time, warming up for next season, with a brand new semester of Women & Society at The Hague University of Applied Science, a fresh series of Freedom Lectures at De Balie, lots of exciting conferences coming up and of course we haven’t quite finished making magic happen at Zuidas Amsterdam either.. so stay tuned for more!
Without change no butterflies.

Love,
K

The right to own a clitoris

3 Jun

Mayar Mohamed Mousa was her name. She was 17 years old. Just like her twin sister, who went under the knife right before her. She survived. But Mayar didn’t. Last Sunday, Mayar Mohamed Mousa died from complications in a private hospital in the Egyptian city of Suez when a female doctor surgically removed her clitoris. Mayar’s mother is a nurse.

Just let that sink in a for a moment.

A female doctor and a female nurse agreed to perform female genital mutilation (FGM) on two perfectly healthy teenage girls. Were even willing to risk the closure of the hospital, jailtime and not to mention the girls’ lives. And all that to remove their external sexual organs. How messed up is that?

And what’s even worse: Mayar and her twin sister are far from an exception. Even though the procedure was officially banned in Egypt in 2008, a staggering 94% of married women have been exposed to FGM and 69% of those women agreed to the same procedure being carried out on their daughters, according to a survey by the Egyptian Health Ministery in 2003.

Why?? Not for religious reasons. Not for hygiene. But simply because people believe this is how it should be. ‘It helps keep girls calm’, I once heard someone say. ‘It’s our culture’, according to others.

Fact of the matter is that today, according to UNICEF, at least 200 million girls and women living in 30 countries have undergone FGM. Of all those girls and women, the highest number are from Egypt: a staggering 27.2 million.

So why do people not talk about this more? Mona Eltahawy, author of Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, offers a very simple yet painful explanation: ‘Something that hurts so many girls and women is kept silent and taboo because it has to do with our vaginas and with sex. The biggest obstacle in the global fight against FGM is the reluctance to talk about the practice.’

So let’s break the silence. Let’s amplify the voices who are challenging this harmful misogynistic practise. Let’s start by remembering the names of the victims who do not live to share their stories. Let’s keep their memory alive.

Mayar Mohamed Mousa was her name. She was only 17 years old.

 

The price of freedom

3 May

I never got to meet my paternal grandfather. From what I’ve been told, he seems to have been quite an amazing man. An adventurous and accomplished technical engineer, who traveled the world (wonder where I got that from ;-)) before settling down with his wife, my grandmother. Life looked good, he had a job, they bought a house, they were starting a family.

Then WW2 started.

Now he could have just done nothing when the Germans invaded his country. He simply could have kept on working as an engineer, trying to make ends meet in those difficult years and raise his two blue-eyed baby boys. But he didn’t. Instead, he joined the resistance.

I would have loved to be able to talk to him and ask him why he did that. If he ever was afraid. If his wife ever tried to dissuade him. If he ever worried about his boys. But I can’t. Because one day, the very same evil he was trying to fight, caught him. Rumour has it he and his team were betrayed.

The Nazi’s transported him to a concentration camp. By miracle, he lived to see the early days of May 1945. Even survived the bizarre allied bombing of the very boat he and his fellow prisoners were forced to board, exactly 71 years ago today. He made it home. But it all had been too much. He passed away, only shortly upon his return to his family.

His city wanted to honour his memory by naming a street after him, but he had always said he didn’t want any of that. He’d said he had just done his duty. (I can suddenly imagine him not being too keen on me writing this blog either. Sorry Grandfather. I feel I just have to.)

I remember my father showing me his last picture, an incredibly skinny man lying in bed, more bones than body, staring into the camera with big black hollow eyes. A hero. Broken into bits.

Each year on May 4th, when the Dutch remember the victims of war, and May 5th, when we celebrate our liberation, I think of him and what he did. How his choice may have saved the lives of many – but cost him his own. How his heroism meant my dad grew up without a father. He fought for freedom. And paid the highest possible price.

Each year, around this time of year, I hear people say they don’t want to remember the dead, nor celebrate our liberation. Because it’s not about them. Not about their struggle, not about their heroes, not about their freedom. This year, the voice of those people is louder than ever.

Don’t think I don’t understand where some of that pain is coming from. I agree we need to rewrite history, and have a critical look at whose dead we commemorate and whose freedom we allow ourselves to celebrate – and at which cost. I also agree there is way too much wrong in today’s society for one moment of silence per year to make things right.

But in the name of my grandfather whom I never met, I ask of those who do not feel this is about them, to think about all those heroes and sheroes who died in the name of freedom. People who could have thought: ‘this war is not about me’ and done nothing. But they chose to stand up instead. Cause they understood freedom does not come in colors, shapes or forms. Freedom does not have a caveat. Freedom is for all, and if not, it’s not it. My grandfather understood that. And that’s why he died, together with so many others. So you and I could have the freedom to be and breathe and speak our mind. Yes, even if we don’t agree. And that’s what I’m remembering and celebrating this week.

I sincerely hope you’ll join me.

Why bother?

11 Apr

Do you know that feeling, that you’d rather not watch the news? Because all it seems to bring are tales of sorrow, suffering and shameful selfishness? Bombings, refugee crisis, Panama papers, abortion debate, US elections.. sometimes it seems like we are not moving forward at all, but rather flipping back through the darkest pages of history.

And the weird thing is: the truth is often more absurd than the most far fetched conspiricy theory. So sometimes, it seems a whole lot easier to become a pessimist or an escapist than a pro-activist. To think: ‘why bother’ and go shopping instead. Been there, done that (and have the closet to prove it). But does it change anything, really?

Fortunately, I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by lots of optimists, who, like me, believe that change does not just occur; it’s a verb: you have to just do it. Like the people behind the amazing ‘Harmony for Peace‘, whose annual concert at the Peace Palace in The Hague I will be hosting this month, with talented kids from all over the country performing together in the name of peace and cross-cultural understanding.

Or my wonderful coachee Saskia Stolz of the Power of Art House, who developed Moving People, to give refugees a face and voice, which she is presenting at Harvard, Yale and Columbia this week. You GO girl!

Or gender equality expert Jens van Tricht, founder of Emancipator, who will join us at the Gender @ The Lighthouse programme at Haagse Hogeschool for the Gender for Dummies event this week. Tell me: how often do you get the chance to hear a MAN talk about gender equality?

And speaking about gender equality, I will go back to my home town later this month, the lovely village of Bathmen, where I will join Vrouwen van Nu to talk about my book (S)hevolution and what we can do to change the world ourselves. Because isn’t that the best remedy in days of despair and devastation: being the change we want to see in this world?

And to the sceptics, who doubt whether all this will make any difference, who still say: why bother? Let me ask you this: when did doing nothing ever change anything?

Without change, no butterflies!

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