Gender Diplomacy in The Netherlands and Albania

Ter gelegenheid van Internationale Vrouwendag 2018 was onze ambassadeur, Dewi van de Weerd, uitgenodigd om een toespraak te houden op het Albanese ministerie voor Europese en Buitenlandse zaken.

It is a privilege for me to address this Women’s Day event. I feel inspired by a discussion I had this morning in our embassy with new female first time parliamentarians. It is quite clear that with such a representation Albania sees women as political agents for change.

My country, the Netherlands, strongly believes in the power of women. And so does the European Union. Its goal is gender equality. Women must be leaders, key participants in political decision making, in conflict prevention and peace building, in running businesses, in civil society or academia.

Another goal for the EU is equal pay for women and men, the pay gap is still big in many countries. Iceland, a non EU member just accepted an interesting law to address this, that everyone is now looking at. Adressing domestic violence is also a priority for the EU. Did you know that    1 in 3 women in Europe is the victim of domestic violence in her life.

The numbers are shocking. In the Netherlands we have an interesting situation. Two-thirds of women work, so the participation in the work force is high. It is important for the economic potential of a country. But many are part timers, sharing the job with taking care of the kids. The result is that there are not many Dutch women that reach the director or board level.  And we do not have the 50/50% of female Ministers in cabinet as you do here.

I like to cite this Albanian example in the Netherlands, I envy it, as well as your powerful move to have the municipality council candidate lists equally divided. Today, in Albania these provisions of women quota in the electoral law are being translated into real seats in Parliament. Allow me to also mention the new standard that Kosovo set some years ago in the region by electing a woman for President. Who will follow?

So how does all this translate to diplomacy, my own profession? How do we diplomats press for progress? Gender diplomacy starts from the highest level. When the US funding for Sexual Reproductive and Health Rights was blocked a year ago, Dutch Minister Ploumen started the She Decides Initiative. Every girl and every woman has the right to do what she chooses with her body.

A lot of funds were gathered to continue support for womens self-determination over their own bodies in the world. We continuously work to give women a place at the decision making table in solving or preventing conflicts. In Albania, together with civil society, OSCE and UN WOMEN, the Dutch embassy has facilitated the development by the Albanian actors of an Action Plan for UN Security Council resolution 1325. I hope it can be presented soon.

The Netherlands appoints female diplomats as ambassadors. Just like Albania does, and I am impressed by how active your ambassadors like Besiana, Adia and Anila are. I will not tell you the story of my female Dutch colleague in Sudan, who swam the Nile for human rights. But I would like to tell you about Susan, our ambassador in Iran. Dutch journalist Thomas Erdbrink wrote an interesting portrait of her, which you might also find inspiring. It is called ‘A Selfie with the Ambassador’. He wrote and I translate;

“After 400 years of diplomatic relations the Dutch government decided to send a woman to Iran as our ambassador. For Dutch people it is not always clear what ambasadors and diplomats do. Politics? Business? It’s always expensive, they say. What do you get in return? Well, quite a lot. In difficult countries diplomats can eventually make the difference between war and no war. They solve misunderstandings that could easily get out of hand. So the Dutch Ambassador in Iran speaks a bit of Persian, is interested in local art and drives like a madman in traffic. In short, she knows her way around. And everyone knows her, both the men and the women. But diplomats are always on the move, on their way to a next posting. If her successor will be a woman again or not, that doesn’t make any difference anymore. After 400 years of men and one woman, suddenly no-one would be surprised.”

Ladies and gentlemen,

My youngest son asked me some time ago: "Mum, can an ambassador also be a man?" This, I found interesting. My sons grow up in a world, where they could imagine that ambassadors are women. We are creating new generations and a shift of paradigm. As a #HeforShe ambassador I can only underline how much we need the support of our men in getting at equals. Together, we construct a society which allows the same space for women, as for men.

Of course, the world is still far from perfect. So often I see videos with only male talking heads, women only as sex symbols or all male panels. There is still not enough focus on the positive role that women play. That is why an event like this organized by Minister Bushati is laudable and important. It is crucial that we all continue jointly on empowering women to take in their places in society.

Thank you.