Are women and men equal in the Netherlands?

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Some of you might be thinking of moving to the Netherlands. Or you are thinking about studying in Amsterdam, Utrecht or Rotterdam. Of course, it is important that you learn Dutch grammar and words in preparation for your arrival.

It’s not only language that is important.

It’s good to know about certain cultural aspects. And I’m not just talking about holidays or food.

But also, how do people behave?

What are the cultural relationships?

We asked students at foreigners what their experiences were of relationships between men and women in the Netherlands.

From Brazil to Sweden: “Men and women are pretty equal in the Netherlands”

Most foreigners think that the Netherlands is pretty good for women. This comes from men and women from all over the world.

In daily life and to a lesser extent, in working life, most students see that Netherlanders treat women and men equally.

First impressions of men and women in everyday life in the Netherlands

In general, Dutch people are not afraid to switch stereotypical gender roles.

  • A couple in a car?

It’s not strange that the man isn’t driving.

  • Doing odd jobs in the house?

It’s no surprise when you see the woman of the house doing this.

  • Changing nappies for your newborn baby?

The husband is definitely expected to do his share. 

What’s the deal with Going Dutch?

This expression that means splitting the bill in a restaurant, is quite common here. And not only because the guys are stingy.

This happens because some women don’t want to be treated like a ‘princess’. They feel that they are equal and independent, so they can pay for themselves.

So if you think that Dutch men are not romantic? See this as a cultural aspect that Dutch guys see women as their equal!

History of feminism in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands we talk about three waves of feminism. In the first feminist wave (from around 1850 to 1940), feminists were mainly striving for equal rights for women in education and employment.

Alette Jacobs

Talking about important women in the Netherlands, you should know about Aletta Jacobs (1854 – 1929). A couple of things make her one of the most important Dutch people of all time.

In 1871, at the age of seventeen, Aletta Jacobs was the second woman in the history of the Netherlands to be admitted to university. In 1879 she became a doctor of medicine. Aletta Jacobs fought for women’s general suffrage for fifty years. On September 18, 1919, Queen Wilhelmina signed the law that granted women the right to vote. But only after an amendment of the law in 1922, were women also automatically sent a ballot paper, as men were.

Second wave

The second feminist wave (late 60s to 80s) promoted the right to paid work and participation in social life, but rapidly expanded into a broad, thematic movement. Some important changes from this period were that women got abortion on demand and that all education, occupations and training should be opened up to women.

Third wave: 2017

At the end of 2017, the #MeToo movement brought feminist issues from the past to light again.

#Me too ensures that victims, often for the first time, come out about the sexual violence they have had to deal with. They want to bring to light things that all too often are swept under the carpet, also in the Netherlands.

Men and women in professional life in the Netherlands

Thanks to these three waves, the Netherlands used to have a good reputation in this area. According to the EU Gender Equality Index, the Netherlands was ranked fourth for a couple of years.

But… in recent years our country has dropped to 37th position on this list.

The EU Gender Equality research shows that after high school or further education, opportunities are equal. But later in life, things start to change a bit. Research from SCP and CBS shows that between the ages of 31 and 35 years, 68 % of women work part time, versus 13 % of men. So here, you can see a big gap between the two.

In the end the Netherlands scores highly when it comes to the number of women who work. That is also because half of young fathers have a weekly ‘papadag’, a daddy day off.

But it’s not all good news. Female employees earn 6% less than their male colleagues.

And in higher and top positions, most people are still exclusively, or almost exclusively, men.

“Men should stay home longer after the birth of a child”

Partnership leave is an important issue during the Third Wave. By extending the partnership leave, a more equal distribution of work and care between both parents after the birth of a child is achieved.

The adjustment of partnership leave is part of a larger goal: transforming gender norms and a stereotyped male/female distribution.

Health care is still aimed at men

But perhaps one of the most distressing thing is that in 2017, health care is still not geared to women. As a result, Dutch women may live longer than Dutch men, but live on average, their last 26 years in poor health. Men live on average 19 years of their lives in poor health.

This big difference is due to the fact that the entire health care system is focused on the male body. The woman’s body works differently, but this is often not taken into account when prescribing medicines, among other things. In addition, men exercise more, but they also drink and smoke more than women.

Bart de Pau
online Dutch teacher & founder of the Dutch Summer School & Dutch Winter School