Hi Devika, before diving into what you’re doing right now, tell me, who was Devika before founding Stem op een Vrouw?
I’m actually a festival producer, I studied event management and afterwards worked for several productions like Magneet festival, IDFA (International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam), Roots festival, mainly for events within the music sector.
You were inspired by Surinam to set up Stem op een Vrouw. Could you tell me more about that?
I was visiting family in Surinam and one day I went to a museum. My eye landed upon a flyer dating out of 1996. It read ‘Women make up half of the population, this is not represented in the National Assemblee, so choose consciously, vote for a woman’. It was a flyer created by the Surinamese women organization called ‘Vrouwen Parlement Forum’.
I took a picture of the flyer and back in the Netherlands, its message lingered around in my mind. I was curious about the representation of women in our government. I then found out that the percentage of elected women in our government was really low, which I found bizarre. The elections for the house of representatives almost took place and I wanted to do something about it. I had been an activist in other fields and brought together a small group of people to create a campaign to stimulate people in the Netherlands to vote for a woman. That’s when Stem op een Vrouw was found in 2017. Ever since, our team has grown and we are currently working with a team of 15 volunteers.
Why is it beneficial to have more women elected in politics?
The parliament represents the people and should therefore reflect society as it is. Only that way, people will know that they have a voice and that this voice is represented. Everybody deserves to see that there are politicians that look like them and think like them. Right now, the ratio is not balanced. There’s too few women in order to fully deliver impact on decisions considering women - which are basically all decisions - and to always consider the perspective of different women. In addition, there’s little visibility and little diversity within the already elected women.
One could argue that men can represent women. Sure, but when you turn this around and you only have 150 women in the house of representatives, I am sure men will realize that this is not how it should be. Different people compliment each other and representation should be balanced.
I can imagine you often receive criticism from men – and perhaps also from some women about what you are trying to achieve. Which one comment or criticism is one that you would like to debunk once and for all?
For sure that must be ‘Shouldn’t it be about quality instead of gender?’ We must have heard that question for over a 1000 times and we have answered it for over a 1000 times. I always say: Of course it’s about quality. Why would you vote for someone you don’t think is qualified? Our campaign is not ‘Vote for a woman that you don’t find qualified’.
The collective idea surrounding qualification is usually the problem in this case. It originates from the narrative that there’s just one person on the list that is the best, which would usually be the candidate on top of the list. The problem is that this is not the idea nor purpose of our democracy. Quality in our democracy means that all of the people on the list complement each other. Our message is not to pick a random woman and vote for her, but to choose someone that suits you. And when that person is a woman, you both vote for quality and for more equality. Also, many people have been randomly voting for the leading candidates on top of the list without often really knowing what they stand for or who the other people on the lists are.
So yes, voting is all about quality, but why does that mean you can not vote for a woman? Better representation of all people, makes for better policy. Voting for a more diverse parliament enhances the quality of the decisions made. And so the best thing you can do, is to do your research and find a woman that suits your ideas and values.