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Interview with Annick Teeuwen - The Netherlands

Annick Teeuwen

Annick Teeuwen is the CEO of SharePower, a women’s social organization founded in 1975 that is committed to making a Netherlands, especially the southern province Limburg, with equal opportunities for everyone – especially for women. SharePower is mainly subsidized by the Province of Limburg. From work to parenting and from money to politics, SharePower provides information, training, organizes activities and collaborates with women. Annick was born in the South Limburg village of Kunrade and frequently traveled often to study or work abroad. Although she obtained her bachelor’s degree in the Netherlands, she has studied and worked in Brazil, Poland, Spain, and China.

Once back in the Netherlands – in 2010, in the midst of the economic crisis – it was not so easy to get a job. During a visit to a friend in Brussels, she applied to employment and temporary employment agencies. Miraculously, she could get to work right away. And a few weeks later, she was even able to start at Toyota’s European headquarters. It wasn't her ultimate dream job, because it was not in the public or non-profit sector, but Annick took the opportunity with both hands. In this way she had an income and was able to gain experience within a company in the private sector and learn all about the efficiency principles that Toyota is known for. “I loved the Japanese culture. But the work itself was not something that made my heart beat faster. After four years, I wanted something else. I took a year-long field trip with a political party. After this, I knew I wanted to work somewhere where people fight for the aspect of human equality.”

Annick is in the lucky circumstance that she was born into a nice and good family and that she always has [had] help and backup from home. “That's why I started working at the Reading and Writing Foundation. In the Netherlands, 2.5 million people are poorly literate, the majority of whom are indigenous. And by autochthonous means: people who have followed primary education in the Netherlands. Nobody chooses the place where they're born. You also have no choice which education you will enjoy. It happens to you. If you didn’t learn the language or basic skills in your youth – the basis for self-reliance – then you should be given the opportunity to catch up later. That's the beauty of this foundation. They help people with basic skills (reading, writing and digital skills), so that they become more independent.”

Women in the Netherlands

The core issues which (the foreign policy of) the Netherlands focuses on are:

  • implementing UN Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security

  • combating violence against women;

  • preventing child marriage;

  • promoting political and economic participation by women;

  • achieving gender equality between men and women.

In 2020, 1,194 children were born to a teenage mother. In 2010, that figure was in excess of 2,500 children. This makes the Netherlands one of the countries in the European Union with the lowest number of teenage births per thousand 15 to 19-year-old girls.

The Netherlands has one of the world’s biggest funds for the promotion of equal rights for women and girls in all their diversity, gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights: the SDG5 Fund, worth a total of €500 million over the period 2021-2025. The SDG5 Fund is associated with the Strengthening Civil Society policy framework.

The birth rate in the Netherlands is 1.55 births/woman as of 2020, and the percentage of female representation in the House of Representatives and at the local level is just above 38%.



Interview with Annick Teeuwen (7 February 2024)

This interview was organized and conducted by Preston Avant, Emma Harnetiaux, and Stephen Roberts. Vanessa Ortiz, Natalie Schoen, Riley Ridge, Emma Harnetiaux, Caroline Lecina, Michael Frost, Libby Dolan, Preston Swift, and August Thut contributed with their insightful questions. All of them were members of the Honors College and attended the “Cultural Contact Zones: Europe” class, which was offered by the John V. Roach Honors College in the Spring 2024 semester.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

What are the most common stereotypes about women in the Netherlands?

Annick Teeuwen

The perception is that we are down-to-earth and not overly feminine. We don't typically expect men to hold doors open for us or pay our bills. This is perhaps why the term "going Dutch" exists in English. We are known for being biking moms instead of soccer moms. It's common to see a woman with a child in the front and back of her bike, cycling around town.

We are also stereotypically seen as tough. For instance, the use of an epidural during labor is not standard in the Netherlands. It's expected to give birth without any painkillers or pain medication. Only in recent years has it become more common, but it's still not the norm, and you might face resistance if you request it.

However, these are just stereotypes and don't necessarily reflect reality. People's behaviors and beliefs can greatly vary depending on their individual personality and the social circle they're part of.

Vanessa Ortiz

What are some major issues women in the Netherlands are facing?

Annick Teeuwen

The pressure on women is high. In general they do take a lot on their shoulders; besides work, household, care. The healthcare system is under pressure in the Netherlands and it relies more and more on informal care, which mostly is done by women. Due to the current crisis (energy, Ukraine, prices), the costs on living increased incredible, so people need more income to cover their basic needs. Since women work mostly parttime (paid), women also need to dedicate more hours to paid work, next to the increasing amount of hours of informal care.

Women are frequently treated like folding chairs - needed one moment and discarded the next.

Natalie Schoen

What are the major obstacles women face in the Netherlands, and how does SharePower address these issues?

Annick Teeuwen

This is an interesting topic. Currently, the biggest obstacle is the prevailing unawareness of the ingrained masculinity in society. This often overlooked issue affects various aspects of life. Women are typically less heard, less paid, and less safe. They usually receive a lower quality of healthcare. This is largely due to the masculine biases woven into our societal fabric.

For instance, when a woman is hired, some may perceive it as positive discrimination, implying she was hired because she is a woman. However, there's a lack of awareness that many men, particularly white men, are often hired due to the same concept in a predominantly masculine society.

If we agree that men and women are equally capable of doing a job, it doesn't make sense that the majority of management positions are occupied by men, predominantly white men. This disparity highlights the issue.

Our societal biases also affect how we approach health issues. For example, a national stroke awareness campaign highlighted symptoms such as changes in speech and arm movement. However, these symptoms are more typical in men than women, demonstrating the gender bias even in healthcare awareness.

At SharePower, our mission is to raise awareness about these issues. We strive to do so positively, as our aim is not to portray women as victims or men as perpetrators. We simply want to highlight the current societal norms and encourage both men and women to take action.

We provide practical solutions, like helping companies become more inclusive. For example, some technical companies claim to welcome women but struggle to retain them. We help by addressing issues like the lack of bins in gender-neutral bathrooms, which can be uncomfortable for women at certain times of the month. These are little things that can make a difference.

We also empower women to reach their potential by providing practical advice and encouraging mutual support among women.

Riley Ridge

Is child marriage prevalent in the Netherlands, and who promotes it? Is it typically the parents or someone else?

Annick Teeuwen

Fortunately, child marriage is not a problem in the Netherlands, as it is strictly forbidden. However, issues such as child marriage and female circumcision persist among immigrant groups where these practices are culturally common.

There is an organization in the Netherlands that raises awareness about these issues, especially among teachers, youth workers, and teenagers. This awareness campaign is particularly active in the run-up to the summer holidays, a period when families often return to their countries of origin. During these visits, girls may be at risk of being married off or circumcised.

The organization not only raises awareness but also advises teachers, youth workers, and teenagers on preventive measures. If they suspect that a teenager is at risk, they are taught how to prevent it.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Is violence against women still a significant issue in the Netherlands? What are the underlying causes of gender-based violence in the Netherlands?

Annick Teeuwen

There isn't a single country in the world, including the Netherlands, where gender-based violence isn't an issue. I once worked at a shelter for domestic violence victims, and I recall a mayor of a nearby town insisting that domestic violence isn't a problem in his town because they only have highly educated residents. This belief that domestic violence only occurs among uneducated, unemployed individuals is simply not true.

I began working at SharePower roughly four years ago. We regularly organize activities during the Orange the World campaign, a worldwide initiative by the UN to raise awareness and combat violence against women and girls. When we started these activities, many people appreciated our effort to raise awareness but believed that this issue primarily needs to be addressed in Third World countries. They were not fully aware that gender-based violence is also prevalent in the Netherlands.

Statistics show that around 40 women die from femicide each year in the Netherlands, equating to one woman every eight days. This is a significant number considering our population size.

Even as recent as four years ago, people would say, "That only happens in far-away countries." However, as we continue to organize activities, awareness of the issue in our own country has grown.

The root of gender-based violence is multifaceted, but it largely boils down to power imbalances. This is a topic we could discuss at length, but essentially, the issue of power is at the core.

Gender-based violence remains a pressing issue today, with sexual violence gaining much-needed attention.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

You mentioned employment and education as contributing factors, though not the only ones. I'm particularly interested in this. I recently spoke with a friend in Austria who informed me that, regrettably, gender-based violence, previously identifiable primarily in certain age groups, is now evident among younger people as well. Is this also the case in the Netherlands?

Annick Teeuwen

While I don't have the exact numbers, my comment was that people often assume that domestic violence solely takes place among uneducated and unemployed people, whereas that’s definitely not the case. They can be contributing factors to the issue, but not don’t have to be. It's important to note that this happens across all backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, and levels. In particular, during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant increase in gender-based violence, especially domestic violence.

Emma Harnetiaux

How has your role as a parent influenced your fight for women's rights?

Annick Teeuwen

As a mother to three boys, I'm very aware of the role men play in gender equality. I believe there are differences between men and women; we're not the same, nor are we equal, but we all have equal value. From a young age, I encourage my sons to pursue their dreams, regardless of their biological gender. I also teach them to extend this expectation to others. Being a boy or a woman doesn't limit what one can do nor does it dictate what one can't do.

I'm conscientious about raising my boys to understand that tasks aren't gender-specific; it's not only mothers who can tuck them into bed or cook for them. My partner and I strive to model this equality in our household. Of course, there are times when one of us might be busier than the other, but we ensure to balance it out.

I believe that while boys are different, they play a crucial role in promoting gender equality. The impact of this perspective on me hasn't been significant; it's just made me more aware that boys too are part of this ongoing conversation about gender equality.

Caroline Lacina

What will be the final outcomes of UN Resolution 1325, and how can you be certain it will bring about that change?

Annick Teeuwen

SharePower primarily focuses on local issues, thus we don't emphasize international SDGs. However, I do believe in the necessity of the UN resolution to hold governments accountable. When confronted with the terrible news, it's a common human response to feel deeply affected. The struggles women face are not only a reality of the present, but also a painful part of our history. Sadly, these practices continue, and a resolution is crucial to hold governments accountable for these issues. Nonetheless, SharePower's focus remains on local women's issues.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

The next topic is politics, which is currently significant in the Netherlands. They recently held an election and are still negotiating to establish a government. Just yesterday, I read that forming a coalition is an ongoing issue. But, the question is, are women in the Netherlands politically active? In your opinion, how important is it for women to participate politically?

Annick Teeuwen

Unfortunately women are less active in politics than men in the Netherlands, and those who are active, often leave politics sooner than men. It's important for women to be active and equally represented in politics. Equal representation is essential in a democracy as it reflects the population accurately. Women make up half of the population, and thus should be equally represented. Moreover, women often address different topics, which enhances diversity.

Diversity has proven to be more efficient and strategic. Quality improves not because of women per se, but because of the diversity that includes both men and women. It's vital not only to encourage women to become active in politics but also to retain them.

However, challenges such as online hate and intimidation, which primarily target female politicians, are prevalent. In fact, these issues are currently a hot topic in the Netherlands. At SharePower we are working to provide city councils with tools to evaluate how women-friendly their environments are.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Is it more crucial to have legislation that safeguards women or legislation that promotes women's rights?

Annick Teeuwen

When it comes to women's rights, we don't need to pick and choose areas of focus. Instead, we need an integrated approach that promotes gender equality in every aspect of life. The Netherlands, for instance, has many regulations promoting gender equality. However, these regulations are often not enforced effectively, which slows progress.

Education is crucial in this regard. It's disheartening to note that girls as young as six already believe they are less intelligent than boys. Therefore, it's imperative that we also focus on educating them about their worth and potential.

Michael Frost

Given your international background, which lessons or practices from other countries do you think could help the Netherlands promote equal rights for women?

Annick Teeuwen

Thank you for the question. I must admit, I admire the Scandinavian countries, particularly for their approach to parenthood. In October, I went on a study trip to Sweden which focused on gender equality. I was impressed by the consensus across the political spectrum; from far left to far right, everyone is committed to promoting gender equality. It's an issue that they actively work on and prioritize through legislation and cultural norms.

One aspect I am particularly envious of is their approach to parenthood. Their parental leave policy is remarkable. After having a child, they get one and a half years of leave, split between both parents. This means that after a woman returns to work from maternity leave, the other parent stays home to care for the child. This disrupts traditional gender roles.

In the Netherlands, mothers get 16 weeks of leave, fathers get one week, and there are an additional five weeks of partially paid leave if desired. For example, when my twins were born, I spent 12 weeks at home with them. After this time, I returned to work, while my partner had been working for the past four months. This system inadvertently reinforces traditional roles.

It's challenging to break this pattern. We had to communicate extensively and it took a lot of effort to make any changes. I believe the government's policies reinforce these traditional roles, whereas in Sweden, they promote shared parenthood and household tasks.

Another point of envy is the division between work and private life in the Netherlands. It's considered inappropriate to discuss personal matters, such as children, at work or on professional platforms like LinkedIn. However, this creates difficulties when, for instance, a child is sick or schools are closed. Parents, often mothers, are left in a difficult situation.

In contrast, Sweden has a more flexible approach. If necessary, parents can bring their children to work. This doesn't mean children are at work all the time, perhaps only once or twice. But this flexibility removes the pressure and I believe it would be beneficial if adopted by the Netherlands. Currently, the Netherlands scores low on the gender index, particularly regarding parenthood. In this respect, I believe there is much we can learn from Scandinavia, especially Sweden. I would love to see some of these practices implemented here.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Do schools in the Netherlands teach the new generation to advocate for gender equality? If so, how?

Annick Teeuwen

Regrettably, there isn't enough emphasis on gender equality. Let's discuss it first. For instance, a recent study found that out of many biology textbooks, only one depicted the female reproductive system accurately. That's alarming.

Several high schools offer self-defense classes, but only for girls and outside of school hours. What about the boys? They should also be included in these discussions.

Recently, Dutch schools have been obligated to provide relational and sexual education, which has sparked a lot of debates. Many parents believe it's their responsibility, not the school's. We have introduced a curriculum on sexting for ages 10 to 16, including an anonymous questionnaire. It revealed that 80% of students don't discuss sex at home. Where else will they learn about setting boundaries?

While it doesn't directly address gender equality, we now have a citizenship program. It's still being implemented but it does discuss diversity and inclusion. It encourages students to empathize with others, which indirectly promotes equality.

As for advocating for equality, the Dutch education system encourages students to voice their opinions. For example, at the university level, professors encourage students to challenge their views and think critically. This indirectly aids in advocating for gender equality I believe.

Riley Ridge

Have you had any personal experiences with gender inequality that led you to this career?

Annick Teeuwen

Thank you. To be honest, I believe my character has always driven me. Even as a toddler, I was removed from class and labeled as rude because I stood up for equality. So, I think this quality has always been there.

Like most women on earth, I have experienced gender-specific inequality. I've been subjected to inappropriate behavior in bars, inquired about my maternal status during job interviews, overlooked in professional environments, and judged for balancing work and motherhood. I've also been criticized for being too independent. Of course, such experiences only strengthen my resolve.

Libby Dolan

How is SharePower actively working to combat sexual and domestic violence against women from another perspective?

Annick Teeuwen

We organize numerous activities on this topic. Specifically, we focus on sexual violence. Last year, we even hosted a conference on this topic.

After various ‘me too’ scandals behind the scenes of Dutch television and in sports, a Government Commissioner on sexually transgressive behavior and sexual violence was assigned in 2022. We invited her to our province last year. During her visit, we organized a conference and several work visits for her at the provincial government, municipalities, and grassroots organizations.

Because of these activities, we have established many contacts in our province on this specific topic. Now, we are using these connections to write and create an action plan. This plan aims to address sexual violence and boundary violations, otherwise referred to as sexual assault. We are developing this action plan for the entire province.

Preston Swint

How did your international experiences, especially your work at Toyota, influence your decision to concentrate on enhancing human quality?

Annick Teeuwen

While at Toyota, my commitment to human equality was already established. However, Toyota taught me much about cultural sensitivity, certain work methods, and Toyota principles. These lessons have significantly aided my professional journey. For instance, I learned about effect-based thinking, root cause analysis, and Kaizen. These principles have been incredibly beneficial. Despite this, my passion did not lie in equality within the corporation. This was a primary reason for my departure. I desired to gain experience in the private sector, but not to build a lifelong career there.

August Thut

How did your time overseas and diverse work experiences enhance your leadership within the women's social organization? How do you think your past experiences influence your current work and the promotion of equality in the Netherlands?

Annick Teeuwen

I firmly believe that cultural and political sensitivity are crucial in a leadership role. Engaging with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds can increase awareness of one's own biases and perspectives. This awareness is essential for the work, and for ensuring there are no barriers that prevent women from being open. To achieve this, it's necessary to identify where these thresholds exist.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

We have four minutes left, three in this case. Before I give Preston, Stephen, and Emma the opportunity to say goodbye, I'm going to ask you my usual final interview question. Currently, four political parties in the Netherlands are trying to reach an agreement to form a government. Imagine if tomorrow you wake up as the new Prime Minister, having been given the power by these parties. What would you do with that power?

Annick Teeuwen

Despite being politically neutral, I don't anticipate any of these four parties addressing me as Prime Minister or seeking information on this topic. I believe it's crucial to focus on gender equality. This might mean appointing a Minister of Gender Equality. We used to have one, but at one point, the government decided that our goals for emancipation had been achieved and the position was no longer necessary. However, I feel that continued education and legislation with sanctions are important for promoting gender equality. The gender gap exists in all sectors, so it should be addressed and integrated into all aspects of society.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Thank you so much for being here with us and for your work. We appreciate what you're doing, it's very important in our countries. If Stephen, Emma, or Preston have any final thoughts or comments, feel free to share before we say goodbye.

Stephen Roberts

I want to extend my gratitude again for sparing time this afternoon to be with us. I am confident that our conversation won't end here. We'll persist in discussing how it's not at all in vain. Thank you once again.

Annick Teeuwen

Thank you all for your interest in this topic and for the engaging questions. Please feel free to contact me if you need further information or have more questions. I believe you all have my contact details. Best of luck with your other classes and your education.

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