4 min28 February 2022

History of women in the Netherlands

Contemporary women think that the position they enjoy in society is obvious. Unfortunately, this has little to do with the truth. For example, in the Netherlands, at the beginning of the 20th century (which is really not so long ago!), women were in a similar situation to women living in Islamic countries. Looking at the Netherlands today, it’s hard to believe, isn’t it? Today, Dutch women are among the most satisfied with their lives in Europe. The country’s liberal social policy offers them many opportunities. In addition, they earn well, but are famous for the fact that they do not want to work a lot – they prefer less, part-time

The only right of a woman is the kitchen countertop

The title of this paragraph is a translation of a Dutch saying that was really popular until the end of the 20th century. In this perception of reality, the role of a woman was to take care of the house, raise the children and look after her husband. This is clearly evidenced by press clippings from the beginning of the century, which are full of various good advice for wives (such as do not use too much pepper and salt, because they increase thirst), and descriptions of a truly good wife. An example of this is the passage from 1929 entitled “The Three Similarities and Differences of a Good Wife.” Here they are:

1. It has to be like a snail; not to leave the house – but not like a snail to carry everything with you.

2. It must be like an echo; speak only when they ask her – but not always have the last word, like an echo.

3. It must be like a church clock; impeccably regular – but not to be heard all over town.

Just don’t get pregnant!

Even more or less until the middle of the 20th century, the chances of a woman finding a job were minimal. No one hired a single mother with a child, and in society such women were outcasts. It was not easy for married women either, and nobody wanted to give them a job. Regardless of her life situation, it was difficult for a woman to support herself.

Until the 1970s, some parts of the Netherlands were very Catholic. A pregnancy outside of wedlock in such an environment could not be accepted. Abortion was out of the question, women had to give birth. Special birthing homes were created, where the child was taken from its mother immediately after being born and put up for adoption. In such a place, the childbirth took place in a blindfold so that the woman would not be able to see the child even once. Even years later, the mother could not find out anything about the child’s fate.

Education for women in the minimum version

Until the 1980s (!) Most of the women in the Netherlands did not work, and the girls only finished 6-year primary school, and then continued their education in a 3-year household school. After finishing their education, they could start embroidering and, of course, taking care of the house, assuming the important social role of a good wife. Until 1990, only around 8% of Dutch women worked outside the home (usually there were unmarried or childless women) and rarely full-time. Until the 1960s, a working woman quit her job when she got married. Even in the seventies, a woman was dismissed from work when she found out that she was pregnant.

Stereotypical thinking & business

This image of the female role had such an impact on the minds of Dutch men that it led to a business disaster in 2007. At that time, the Dutch bank ABN-AMRO was one of the most powerful banks in the world. Its president – Rijkman Groenink – negotiated a huge contract with a Chinese partner. It was unfortunate that the chairman of the Chinese delegation was a woman. After the difficult talks ended, when the parties got along and everyone relaxed a bit, Groeninka took a joke. Leaving the room, he noticed a vacuum cleaner and – as if in a joke – said to the Chinese woman “now you can clean up”. This joke cost the Dutch bank a billion-dollar contract that was broken.

XXI century and women’s rights

The situation of women in the Netherlands has changed with the socio-economic changes. Today, Dutch women are perceived as modern and liberated women. Statistically, about 40% of women declare financial independence from their husbands / partners. Although Dutch women also do not strive for independence at all costs – instead they enjoy interesting professional opportunities, the option of part-time work, and combining professional life with family life and motherhood. It is hard to resist the impression that the Dutch have achieved a balance and are satisfied with the situation they are in.


Also interesting!

Read more blogs from these categories

Typical Dutch Food

3 min5 December 2022

How to avoid cultural faux pas in the Netherlands?

3 min1 July 2022

Top 5 amusement parks in the Netherlands

3 min10 June 2022