Ethnicity as a path to the realization of your ideals as a human being

During my college years and my career I was easily labelled ‘feminist’ and ‘very emancipated’. In the meantime I have grown older and wise enough to consider such kind of labelling as a sign of laziness as well as a lack of decency to give a person space to be who they really are.

I have nothing against feminism neither against emancipation. I acknowledge the history of both and am very aware of the way paved by them to provide be space to be a woman.

Also my ethnicity as a label I have declined in a friendly way, when I was requested by an employer (one of the former Big Four) to complete a form with reference to my ethnicity so the company could prove it was attributing to positive discrimination. Just the word ‘discrimination’ ... . No matter what adjective is placed before this word, it still remains discrimination. But once I understood that companies attributing to positive discrimination were being subsidized, I threatened to leave the company. ‘Why is my ethnicity relevant? Haven’t I been hired for my qualities meeting your requirements?’ My argument was received with understanding and I became an non subsidized Dutch employee with an ethnic background.

Towards the International Women’ s day I have had the privilege to attend many discussions and dialogues. Topics like equal payment, equal treatment, financial independence, ethnicity, the power and talent of a woman as a contribution to the current society passed the review.

This year I was very curious about the ‘international’ part of International Women’s day. I was hoping to find the answer during an event organised by Womenspeak at the Moluccan Museum in Utrecht. Those interested were invited with the question: Is there a women’s movement for various ethnicities? And alternatively: Should such exist and if so, what topics would be relevant? This event produced beautiful examples of action and non action. The promise of the Women for Peace on Maluku (Vrouwen voor Vrede op de Molukken) represented by Farida Pattisahusiwa by signing the National Action Plan (NAP) 2012 to advance the implementation of UN Resolution 1325. Women for Peace on Maluku herewith promises as well as the other signatories to involve Resolution 1325 in her policy with respect to conflict zones and to produce gender analyses to fight inequality. Together they endeavour to more awareness of and support for the interest of gender in conflict zones and in particular the awareness of and support for Resolutions 1325. Also a medicine was given for the ‘yobbishing’ society of today. A medicine available very near, namely upbringing: respect for yourself and your fellow human being amongst others by means of respectful linguistic usage.

This event was indeed “crowded house, intercultural cooperation, fascinating guests, lots of interaction” [translation by TSC], but the answers for me to these interesting inviting questions did not occur.

With respect to the fact that from my point of view Dutch history books have shown – whether or not on purpose withheld – countless but in terms of relevance necessarily to be filled gaps with respect to the history and ethnicity of her inhabitants in this already for several centuries existing multicultural Netherlands, I can understand that ethnicity is needed and has allying effect. Ethnicity can bring forth understanding for the point of departure and gives in absence of a decent reproduction of Dutch history in education fellow travellers on the path to realization of ideals as a human being.

In Amstelveen during the International Women’s day these ethnic travelling companions gathered in large numbers. Iranian, Indian, Kurdish, Moroccan, Somali, Ethiopian, Indonesian and more women with international appearance to celebrate International Women’s day together. After the opening by a woman on the move as a physiotherapist and reintegration coach Marian van Zanen-van den Berg a dialogue took place. In small groups women were being asked to mention their power and talent as a contribution to the current society.

Power and talents which were being told from an ethnic perspective. Indian Deepika is fully aware of her privileged position with respect to Indian women in general. Her father has a good job at an Indian bank and she got unlike most Indian daughters the possibility to study mathematics outside the city she lived in. As wife of an expatriate with a leading function at a multinational company and as a mother of two children she came to the Netherlands. Soon became clear that her husband respected and trusted her and her mathematic skills completely, especially with respect to domestic finance. Her husband sees to it that she receives a sum of money, comparable with fulltime monthly salary, on her bank account and she can spend it as she pleases. She has arranged her affairs properly, her work as a housewife, mother and her talent and knowledge are being rewarded. Her hobby is shopping and she is also being approached by others to shop for them. But when asked to tell us what ‘her’ dream is, a long silence follows. ‘I have never had to ask myself questions like this one before.’

In the evening a lecture about women’s rights is organized. The lecture ‘Werk maken van vrouwenrechten’ [Let’s work on Women’ s rights – translation TSC] by Leonie van Gils, president of the Union for women’s interests and Equal citizenship, was received in a wrong way.

The fact that the freedom of movement for women in Saudi-Arabia amongst others is limited with the prohibition for a woman to drive a car, was recited in a lecture by a woman who never had to experience such limitations in her freedom of movement. ‘But is a good thing that she brings it to our attention’, I expressed to soothe the matter. ‘No, there are also women from Saud Arabia living in Amstelveen, why are they not allowed to have their voices heard. Let someone who experienced it herself talk about this matter.’ Well, she had a point.

During the musical closure of Internation Women’s day Somalian Safia tells me there are 22 international organisation for development and cooperation in Amstelveen of which 19 are completely white... . She herself together with an Ethiopian lady organises gatherings for Somalian and Ethopian women. Seldom these gatherings can take place in Amstelveen and they are forced to search spaces for these gatherings in Amsterdam.

‘Amstelveen is ashamed for her non-white faces.’ A reception at the Meent in Amsteveen heard this story during the dialogue. She could not believe this and arranged for a fixed space for the Somalian and Ethiopian women of Amstelveen that same morning. A sad story exposed to the light of and helped due to the power of the dialogue.

Striking was that mainly women from foreign descent were dancing the closure of the International Women’s day. Might it be because they are experiencing and honouring freedom daily and because they know what it feels like as a woman not to be respected as an up to par human being and not to be allotted any right, purely and only because of being a women?

A women’ s movement cherishing and respecting ethnicity as a paved path, which can be taken through history to next generations, is what is needed.

Even though women’s fight for equal treatment often seems like cycling towards the horizon without actually arriving at the destination, there is still a lot of work to be done. The sooner each of us – man and woman – take our responsibility in this matter the sooner the destination might be reached: woman and man as equal and up to par beings of humanity.


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