Women’s Suffrage in the Netherlands
May 9, (1919)
In 1917, exactly a century ago, women in the Netherlands were granted the passive right to vote. This meant women were able to be elected in politics, but were not allowed to vote themselves. It was only in 1919 that women were given the active right to vote, which allowed them to participate in electing a candidate.
After 1870, the feminist movements of the ‘First Wave’ (1850-1920) of England and the United States influenced the Netherlands, causing a feminist consciousness to develop itself within wealthy families of the bourgeoisie. The women’s movement exposed and challenged women’s subordinated position in society. The main goal was to achieve access for women to all forms of education, the right to participate in civil service under the same circumstances as men, and equal rights of the management and expenditure of joint ownership. Women’s right to vote was heavily emphasised on.
In 1882, a female doctor, Aletta Jacobs, wrote a letter to the mayor of Amsterdam, asking why she was not registered as a voter, although she paid the legal required amount of taxes to be eligible to vote. The mayor answered that although the law did not say explicitly that women could not vote, the intentions of the law could not be discussed. The result of a long judicial fight was that the parliament changed the law and added ‘male’ to the article of the law. It was very clear now- women had no right to vote.
In the early days of the twentieth century, the debate of universal suffrage divided the Socialists and the Liberals. The Socialists put emphasis on suffrage for the lower classes, and thought that once the men had suffrage, the women would follow. The Suffragettes, being mostly upper class women, opposed this idea fiercely. Eventually, the question was solved in a very Dutch manner. The right to stand for election for both women and men was granted in 1917 and the right to vote for all women and men was granted in 1919. At the same time, subsidized Catholic and Protestant schools were erected. The Socialist, Liberal, Catholic and Protestant political parties all got what they wanted.
Hedy D’Ancona has had an impressive career- both in and outside politics. In the sixties, Hedy D’Ancona was one of the founders of ‘Man Vrouw Maatschappij’ or MVM (Man, woman, society), a mixed feminist group that put fundamental questions concerning gender relations to the forth. She is one of the few active members of the feminist groups of the second wave that pursued a political career. She was a member of the Dutch Upper House, the junior minister of Emancipation, the Minister of Welfare, Public Health and Culture, a MEP, and the chair of the Dutch Social Democrats of the European parliament. The fact that Hedy D’Ancona has combined feminism with both a professional and a political career has contributed positively to the image of women’s issues as an important and accepted political issue. Although during the second feminist wave activities concerning women’s issues mostly took place outside the political realm, D’Ancona has a history of pulling feminism into (social democratic) politics. During her (unfortunately) short period of junior minister of Emancipation, she changed the idea that ‘women had still a lot ground to cover’ to ‘gender as an issue of power’. She started to design policy to avoid violence against women and girls, and the gender based division of labour. The device of the second feminist wave -the personal is political- describes Hedy D’Ancona in all of her aspects.