March 29, 2017

The Dutch elections: a feminist reflection on a complex puzzle

Ellen Ambags
This article is written by:

Ellen Ambags

(apologies for the English reader that some links lead to Dutch web pages – much on the elections and political parties is unfortunately not available in English)

All eyes were on the Netherlands as we voted for a new government three weeks ago. Nationally and internationally, there was a sigh of relief that populist and anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders did not win the majority vote. But how relieved should we all be? Is the alternative any better? And what do the election results mean for women, girls and trans people, in the Netherlands and worldwide? For the rights of Muslim people and people of color? For the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, queer, and intersex people? 

The election results have marked a political shift to the right in the Netherlands. The conservative-neoliberal VVD remained the most voted party, even with a loss of eight seats in Parliament. Wilders’ anti-Islam party PVV ended up second, and the center-right, conservative Christian CDA came in third with big wins as well. At the same time, there are big changes on left. The left green progressive party GroenLinks more than doubled its seats in Parliament, and the center-left D66 is now 1,5 times the size it was. But the centre-left PvdA lost 29 seats – the largest loss of seats in Dutch modern political history. They were brutally punished for their compromises during their 4,5 years in government with the VVD.

The results show how politically divided the Netherlands is. You can read from it trends of increasing nationalism, racism and homo/transphobia in a country that is often viewed as such a tolerant place. Actually, underneath a progressive surface, parts of Dutch society have never been ‘tolerant’, and in recent decades, this part of the Dutch public has become more conservative and xenophobic. Partly driven by the economic crisis, worries about the Netherlands being “absorbed” by the European Union, as well as politicians blaming economic struggles on immigration, people increasingly vote conservatively. They welcome Wilders’  anti-Islam rhetoric framing it as though Muslims do not belong in our society,  creating divide between what he sees as “the Dutch”  and “the non-Dutch”. The VVD’s  increasingly nationalist agenda fits this trend as well. An example of this are the slogans of their election campaign, focusing on “acting normal”. Political leaders and campaigns like this empower people to voice their sentiments more openly. At the same time, there remains a chunk of progressives who, particularly in these elections, have felt the urge to put their vote where their heart is. Hence, the formation of a new coalition government will be a complicated political puzzle.

So how do the main political parties actually score on human rights issues?

The Feminist Club Amsterdam gave voting advice and ranked 13 political parties based on six main topics. Two of the most voted parties (VVD and CDA) ranked in the bottom half of the list. Their election plans do not address abortion, pregnancy discrimination, sexual violence or the gender wage gap. They want a full ban of face-covering headscarves (burqas). CDA wants to criminalize sex work, and VVD does not mention sex work at all.

The Netherlands’ largest LGBTIQ organization, COC, initiated the “Rainbow Polls Agreement” (Regenboog Stembusakkoord) with eight LGBTIQ commitments. These commitments include legally allowing more than two parents for a child, and more clearly stating in the constitution that discrimination against LGBTIQ people is punishable by law. Eight political parties signed the agreement , including VVD, D66 and GroenLinks. The CDA was amongst those parties who did not sign.

The biggest party, VVD, seeks to decrease development corporation spending and wants less government ‘interference’ on topics of discrimination and women’s rights (or “emancipation”, as they call it) in the Netherlands. They argue that society can and should solve these issues without an increase in rules and regulations. On emancipation they state: “Quotas are for fish, not women” (quotas to get more women in higher management levels). And on discrimination: “New rules are not needed. Rules do not end discrimination; people do.” There is no clarity on what they do want to do on these topics.

Minister Ploumen of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation started the global ‘She Decides’ initiative, as a response to Trump’s re-installment of the Global Gag Rule. As Ploumen belonged to the PvdA, she will now be part of the opposition, and no longer be a minister. She Decides will  continue to develop, but nobody knows yet who will be Ploumen’s successor. One thing is sure: if the post is led by a conservative party, women’s rights globally will be less prioritized than they were under Ploumen.

The political landscape in the Netherlands is a complicated puzzle , and the issues of most concern to feminist and other social justice movements are low on the agenda of about half of the most probable government coalition parties. What this will mean for the rights of women’s, girls’ and trans people is yet to be seen. It is up to us to continue to persist and push for our feminist, human rights agenda. Together with the groups we support and our sister women’s funds around the globe. And together with you!

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