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Women's Day Protest in Maastricht

Updated: May 10, 2021

Words by Yves Lacroix, photos by Massimo Marigo

Almost two hundred people populated the #Vrijthof in #Maastricht yesterday for the second year of the Women’s Day Protest. The protest, organised by Feminists of Maastricht, Amnesty International Maastricht Students, Anti Capitalist Feminist Collective, LadyFest Maastricht and the Unicef Student Team Maastricht, called for more support of women’s rights and gender equality and aimed to create awareness but also support each other.

Despite the cold, the protest was well attended with close to two hundred people (mainly women) taking up their spaces on the one-and-a-half-meter-apart-dots. While the attendees standing in the shadow of the Sint Servaaskerk held up signs and occasionally warmed their hands, several speakers came forward to tell their stories.

One of them is Diane Ngatchou, a twenty-year-old European Studies student from Brussels. She’s one of the organisers of yesterday's protest and strongly believes the feminist struggle is still a necessary one.

"A lot of people think feminism isn’t necessary anymore, but data shows we aren’t where we want to be yet’

she says. According to Amnesty International, 19% of women and 3% of men have had someone enter their body without consent while research shows that of all management positions in the Netherlands only 25% are taken up by women.

"I think we shouldn’t take women’s rights for granted. In Poland, for example, we can see that abortion rights are slowly taken away."

As a black woman, Diane, who’s in Brussels today to join the Women’s Day protests, has had to deal with her fair share of discrimination.

"I feel that even though I have the same educational background, and the same skills, I have less chance of getting a position."

This is why she thinks the focus should be on intersectional feminism, a framework that takes into account other social and sexual identities (race, class, sexuality, gender, etc..) and tries to see how they interact. The concept of mansplaining is no stranger to her either. After all, tutorials are the best places for men to explain things that only they, arguably, understand.

‘The first step we need to take is improving the collection of data on discrimination or sexual abuse for example,’

she says. That data, she hopes, will create the awareness and understanding that is needed for the system to change. A system that still disadvantages women over men. Anti conception, for example, is only partially covered by insurance. The same goes for menstruation products where women have considerably higher expenses for their comfort than men have.

But Diane has hope.

‘It will take a lot of time, a generation maybe, but it will change.'

Another of yesterdays speakers, activist and whistleblower Pieke Roelofs (31), has had to deal with sexual abuse and it’s consequences herself. She has filed a criminal complaint for rape and has been fighting the case in court.

‘Many people grow up believing that when something happens to you, the police are going to be there to help you"

she says. The truth turns out to be quite disillusioning. The process of filing a criminal complaint is quite difficult and might take a lot of time.

"In order for something to be called rape there needs to be force or threat involved. Sweden for example has passed a law stating sex without consent is rape, wether there was force or not. The Netherlands is still lagging behind."

To create awareness and help victims of sexual abuse Pieke has started Stichting Cassandra. The organisation aims to inform people about the struggle people go through after sexual abuse and uses interviews of fellow sufferers to stir up a conversation. It’s named after Cassandra, a woman who, in Greek mythology, was raped by the hero Ajax and professed the downfall of King Agamemnon. Much like many victims of sexual abuse, nobody believed her.

Pieke feels she hasn’t been treated in the best way by the police and prosecution service, stating that she's been lied to by the first and been intimidated by the latter. She felt she had to start an article 12 procedure, for the police to continue its investigation of her rape case.

"The advice I would give to people who've been sexually abused is: if you want to file a criminal complaint, go to the police as soon as possible. It would not be a bad idea to record every interaction you have with the police in case they mistreat you. And above all, ask for help."

She’s confident the police don't handle her case this bad on purpose. They just have too little funding.

"Cases with little proof or cases that don’t happen in public are put on the shelf. There just aren’t enough detectives to handle all the incoming sexual abuse cases properly."

The only non-woman to speak yesterday was Bela Belissima (23). Bela who identifies as non-binary believes the feminist debate should cover more than binary gender terms. In their speech, Bela refers to the problem of masculinity.

"The hegemonic archetype of masculinity is impossible for most men to achieve. In consequence, many men feel like they can only assert their masculinity by proving they are not a woman."

Bela talked about their teen years when they acted the same. Hiding most forms of femininity in order to be a boy.

"I had internalised misogyny and femme-phobia so deeply it took me years to realise how much violence I inflicted upon myself and that the only thing I was doing was hurting myself."

As a non-binary person, Bela has definitely felt uncomfortable in situations when they felt they didn’t conform to the archetypal gender norms.

"I’ve gone into meetings with three cis-gender heterosexual men, checking beforehand if I looked 'manly enough' for my opinion to matter",

walking in with a skirt and makeup or wearing trousers and greased up hair will entice a completely different reaction after all.

Bela thinks people should realise that gender is not a black and white thing. Having struggled with their sexuality and gender identity they believe people should be informed at a young age.

I think on an informal level parents should educate their children about different sexualities and gender identities, the same goes for sexual education at school. Educating children doesn’t make them gay or transgender, but it might take away a lot of confusion when growing up with identities that don’t fit the cis-heteronormative status quo."

Now, after coming out twice, first as bisexual and secondly as non-binary, Bela is spreading their message as an artist, model and proud podcaster.

Feminists of Maastricht organise weekly events to educate people on the topic of feminism. If yesterday's protest sparked your interest or if you'd like to know more about their initiatives head to their website.

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