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!


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.


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!

The same question each year

5 Mar

Around this time each year, I get asked the same question.

‘International Women’s Day, is that really still necessary?’

I always give the same answer. YES!

Unfortunately, it still is.

Why? Because men and women still do not have equal rights, equal access, equal power, equal representation, equal safety.

Some examples:

This week, the Inter-Parliamentary Union reported that in 2015, only less than a quarter of MPs worldwide were women.

So much for representative democracy.

The representation of women in conflict resolution is even lower: only 8% of all participants in peace negotiations between 1992 and 2011 were women. And only 3% of all peace treaties was signed by a woman.

Speaking about representation: last week, waiting at an Amsterdam bus stop, I took this picture of an ad campaign:

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Suit Supply campaign in the streets of Amsterdam


Wrong on so many levels, that I don’t even want to begin to explain why.

Fortunately, the massive outcry that followed did lead to cities removing the campaign from their bus stops altogether. But the damage was already done. How about scrutinizing campaigns before putting them up?

Yes, sexism is everywhere – yet often so hard to acknowledge. ‘Aren’t you being a bit over-sensitive now?’ or ‘Don’t go all feminist on me darling’, or even ‘You must be having your period’ are only some of the reactions I got while trying to discuss sexist situations in daily professional life. That’s why I wholeheartedly support the #geengrapje (no joke) campaign by the Dutch Young Socialists and said yes when they asked me to be in their campaign video:


But that’s not all I do this Women’s Day.

On March 7th, I host a Transgender Seminar at The Hague University of Applied Science,

On March 8th, I host an intergenerational panel on feminism then and now,

within the framework of the amazing Mama Cash project More than a Muse,

And on March 12th, I host the FNV (Dutch Federation of Trade Unions) Women’s Day event 

(for more upcoming events, have a look here)

As American poet Audre Lorde said: ‘We‘ve been taught that silence would save us. But it won’t.’

Happy International Women’s Day!

De kracht van vrouwen

20 Nov

Het gesprek over man/vrouw diversiteit op de Nederlandse arbeidsmarkt gaat vaak over vrouwen aan de top. Ook deze week was het weer raak: de streefcijfers voor 30% vrouwen in topfuncties in het bedrijfsleven blijken bij lange na niet te zijn gehaald. Slechts één op de tien bestuurders en één op de negen commissarissen is een vrouw, zo bleek uit de evaluatie van de Wet Bestuur en Toezicht. Bovendien voldoen veel bedrijven niet aan de rapportageplicht, die bepaalt dat als ze de streefcijfers niet halen, ze in hun jaarverslag moeten uitleggen waarom.

Bij het lezen van zulke berichten zou je bijna de hoop verliezen, anno 2015. Je zou kunnen verzuchten dat de plaat is blijven steken, dat we dit verhaal al duizend keer hebben gehoord, dat het zo echt niet langer kan. Je zou er bijna sceptisch van worden.

Bijna. Maar toch niet helemaal.

Volgende week vrijdag vindt in Den Haag de Grande Finale van het project Kracht on Tour plaats, waarmee mede-ambassadeur Petra Stienen en ik de afgelopen anderhalf jaar samen met minister Bussemaker door Nederland zijn gereisd met om met werkgevers én vrouwen in gesprek te gaan over de vraag hoe we ervoor kunnen zorgen dat meer vrouwen meer uren aan de slag gaan, niet alleen aan de top, maar overal: in de horeca, de zorg, het bedrijfsleven of het onderwijs, in de logistiek, de techniek, de detailhandel of als ondernemer. We spraken met BN’ers als Heleen van Rooyen, Ellen ten Damme en Jan Kooijman over hun ervaringen op weg naar hun droombaan, maar ook met lokale heldinnen die lieten zien dat je nooit te oud bent om te leren.


En daar zaten veel mensen op de wachten, zo bleek uit de volle zalen met enthousiaste vrouwen in Groningen en Almere. Niet alleen de deelneemsters, maar ook de werkgevers bleken meer dan bereid om mee te doen. Zo waren we in Roermond, waar onder meer een thuiszorgorganisatie, een hotel en een ROC de handen ineen sloegen om vrouwen te helpen doorgroeien in hun carriere. We waren in Rotterdam, waar juist in de haven veel kansen bleken te liggen voor vrouwelijk technisch talent. In Zwolle, waar onderwijs, bedrijfsleven en vrouwenorganisaties een elftal vormden om structureel financiële zelfstandigheid van vrouwen te bevorderen, en in Eindhoven, waar koningin Maxima vrouwen opriep om niet altijd in de bijrijdersstoel te blijven zitten, maar ook eens zelf achter het stuur te gaan zitten.

En daar sloeg onze koningin volgens mij de spijker op de kop. Want een slimme meid is nog steeds op haar toekomst voorbereid. Ook in 2015.

Wil jij ook kennismaken met de kracht van vrouwen? Lees hier meer over Kracht on Tour, de deals per gemeente en de Grande Finale.

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