Think equal, build smart and innovate for change

Shouldn’t women be in charge of their own lives? Back in the 1960’s feminist movements challenged the status quo. In China, activist Jiang Bingzhi started questioning the gender balance in marriage. Meanwhile, the feminist movement Mad Mina (Dolle Mina) was founded in the Netherlands. Through playful protests they challenged the traditional gender-divide, demanding equal wages, legal abortion and an equal societal status. From burning corsets to sharing flyers with brides to warn them for their soon-to-be roles, the movement soon raised awareness.

The name of the Dolle Mina movement is based on Wilhelmina Drucker (1847-1925). After her father, who never acknowledged her, passes away she was not entitled to any inheritance. She fights the court ruling through many publications and in the end receives half the inheritance. She uses it to fund the Vrije Vrouwenvereeniging (Free Women’s Union), standing up for single mothers and striving for freely available anticonception measures.

Positions in society

Back in 1878, Aletta Jacobs was the first woman to graduate from a Dutch University, with which she became the first female doctor of the country. Aletta focused on women’s and children’s health, also introducing birth control. In the early 20th century, she also starts campaigning for women’s suffrage. After becoming the chairman of the women’s suffrage committee she played a large role in finally achieving women’s suffrage in 1919. This year is actually the 100 year anniversary of women’s suffrage in the Netherlands!

When the Dutch Civil Code was introduced in 1838, it included that women were incapable of working as soon as they got married. After a special decree in 1925, women younger than 45 were often fired instantly after getting married to become a fulltime housewife and mother. However, after the second world war, the situation changed. Corry Tenderloo (1897-1956) was a fierce protestor against this section of the civil code. As an unmarried member of parliament she submitted a motion in 1955 to reverse the special decree, which was passed with the smallest possible majority. In 1956 the Cabinet also changed the Civic Code, so that also married women were seen as capable of working. This same topic was addressed in China by feminist Qiu Jin (1875-1907), who was a strong advocate of freedom of education and equal positions for men and women in society.

Women in science

In 1917, Johanna Westerdijk became the Netherlands’ first female professor, specialized in phytopathology. Around the same time, in 1920, also in China the first female professor was appointed: Chen Hengzhe, who specialized in Western History.

For Johanna, it seemed natural that also in science there should be more gender equality. Though she was not an active feminist, she meant a great deal for the role of women in science. Under her management of Central Bureau of Fungal Cultures, she supervised over 55 PhD students, of which about half were women.

Gender balance in the government

Back in 1956, Marga Klompé became the first female minister in the Dutch government. After the second world war Marga becomes the first UN Female Representative and enters the Parliament where she acts as a spokesperson for foreign affairs for her party. She becomes minister of Social Work and later minister of Culture. She passed the Dutch Welfare Law which focuses on social security.

Since then of course there have been many more female ministers who have followed in Marga’s footsteps such as Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert (1973-…) who is now a Special Envoy for the Secretary General of the United Nations or Lilianne Ploumen (1962-…) who stood at the cradle of #SheDecides. A Chinese counterpart has been Wu Yi (1938-…) who became Minister of Health during China’s SARS outbreak and successfully managed it.

In the World Economic Forum’s ranking on gender equality, the Netherlands currently holds a 27th(/149) place worldwide. As such the Netherlands’ government is rolling out initiatives to further improve gender equality. Examples are of course introducing a target of a 30% female board for listed companies. But there are also initiatives in education, such as the Westerdijk (named after Johanna Westerdijk) Talent impulse which aims to create more opportunities for women in science. Besides this, there are also subsidies and policies, such as kindergarten funding, which aim to decrease the economic gender gap.

In the end, overcoming the gender gap is all about thinking equal, building smart and innovating for change.