I remember watching Hilary Clinton’s concession speech back in 2016 and just being in utter shock and disbelief, although it was not even about my country. As a nineties kid, my parents brought me up with the belief that the world was becoming a better place. When watching the speech, I realized: emancipation is not going along a linear curve, if our attention is slipping away, we’ll be going backward if not forward.
After the Dutch national elections in 2017, emancipation for women in politics in the Netherlands experienced a major setback. The number of women in Parliament was no longer increasing. Only 36% of our 150 parliamentary seats were taken up by women, at the moment only 31%. This accelerated my activism as a feminist organizer and my willingness to volunteer for my political party. We are not moving fast enough towards a truly inclusive and feminist Europe.
I have a strong belief in individual responsibility without denying that there are mechanisms holding women back. Currently, as board member of the women’s network of my political party, I am often asked by both women and men: what can I personally do for gender equality in politics? As a person who is either in politics, interested in politics or involved in some kind of volunteering or activism, you have the power to make a real change in getting more women involved in politics.
“What can I do?”
These are 5 lessons I learned from the Dutch experience and from my own conversations with other women in politics. I try to apply them to my work in politics.
1) Look around you
Diversity work takes time. If you are striving towards a diverse political landscape, start now. Start looking around for women in leadership roles, activists who are working in their communities, volunteers working on diverse topics. Look for people who do not fit the traditional picture of a politician.
2) Find a space for them in politics
Having a diverse membership within a political party is not enough. A political arena is not a safe space for everybody. I was the first person of my family to go into politics and I was very glad to have found people who showed me the way. You can be a welcoming force for new people. Find a space for women in politics. I always try to ask the question: where will his or her talent grow and thrive?
3) Ask, and ask again
Most women will not voice their ambition, although they may have it. If you want to have more women on your candidate list, ask them. And then ask them again, or let someone else ask again. Let the question simmer for a while and let them think about how it will impact their lives. Contrary to men, most women will not decide on the spot to follow their ambition.
4) Vote strategically
The Dutch grassroots organization Stem op een Vrouw (‘Vote for a Woman’) has been gaining momentum since the national elections two years ago. Their message is simple: decide which party you want to support, look at the polls and give your vote to the first woman who is just under the number of seats the party is likely to get. Often the first or second woman on the list does not need your vote to get a seat, the women lower on the list do. The parliamentary and especially the last local elections proved that the concept worked in the Netherlands.
In this TEDtalk Stem op een Vrouw founder Devika Partiman explains how she’s changing political by casting a strategic vote.
5) Support women in politics
Women in politics have less sustainable political careers. They lean back for a variety of reasons. Resulting in cabinets consisting mostly of men. We have never had a female Prime Minister in the Netherlands. We can all help to encourage women and appreciate female leaders more. Let us not be too harsh on female politicians, let us not call them shrill or bitchy.
If I may offer a piece of advice for all EU citizens in May: please do as Devika tells us to. Cast your strategic vote for a feminist Europe at the European elections. More women in politics: we can make it happen!
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