We decide*

15 Apr

’99 – 51.
Does anyone know what that is?
It’s the ratio of men to women in the Dutch House of Representatives today.
In 2018 only one out of three of my colleagues is female.
Exactly one hundred years after the first woman was elected to the Dutch House of Representatives. And that is a shame. A really big shame.
Because, as I am sure I do not need to tell you, the future is female.

Last week, I had three 10 year old girls visiting me in The Hague. These three little feminists interviewed me for a school project about gender equality. They asked me some of the best questions ever.
‘What does being a feminist mean for your career?’ ‘Why do some people not agree that women and men are equal?’ ‘What can we do to change that?’

I told them I think it all starts with equal representation. Because only when women are equally represented in positions of power, we can make a difference and let our voice be heard. Nothing about us without us!

I don’t know about you, but I personally believe that investing in gender equality is the right thing to do. I mean, come on. We are 50% right?
But a growing pile of research shows that it’s not just the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do.
Because gender equality is not only good for people, it’s also good for countries. Countries where women have access to reproductive health care perform better than countries that don’t. Communities where a bigger percentage of women participate in local government invest more in sanitation and education, and show lower numbers of corruption. When girls go to school, they are healthier and live longer.

It’s not rocket science: development starts with women and girls. Unfortunately, not everybody agrees.
On the contrary, there is a groing group of countries where gender equality is considered controversial. They obviously missed the memo. Cause I hate to break it to them, but the future is really female.

Did you know that at the annual Commission on the Status of Women at the UN, we are negotiating to keep the agreed language that’s already there, in stead of negotiating steps forward? Conservative countries team up with the Holy See and lobby against sexual and reproductive rights, or even the use of the word gender. In Russia, domestic violence is no longer a criminal offense. And the US and their global gag rule have had a huge negative impact on women’s right to choose worldwide.

People without wombs and vaginas deciding on policies affecting wombs and vaginas. And they’re getting away with it.

So that’s why we need equal representation. But we also need solidarity, sisterhood and a strong civil society to raise awareness and put gender on the agenda. And that’s where you come in. Cause it’s only in cooperation with NGO’s, activists, journalists and human rights defenders that we can build a better and more inclusive world. We’re stronger together. There’s more of us. And we decide.’

*speech delivered at the 2018 Africa Day, during the session ‘She Decides in Africa’, on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

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