Election Interview with Student en Stad and GroenLinks

By Rebekah DauntEdward Szekeres

The Groningen municipal elections are just around the corner. On the 21st of November, the constituents of Groningen have the power to decide who takes a seat in the local council. If you are an EU citizen, have registered with the municipality  or have been living locally for five years, you have the right to cast a vote. There are over 50,000 students living in Groningen, many of whom are eligible to vote. The Stand caught up with two political parties; Student en Stad (Student and City) and GroenLinks (Green Left) to discuss the election, their campaigns and their vision for Groningen for the next four years.

Marten Duit (29), is the leader of Student en Stad, a party that has served the local community for 25 years. Marten has been a member of Student en Stad for over a year. As a citizen of the youngest city in the Netherlands, Marten was inspired by the party’s desire to  represent not  only the students of Groningen but also the city’s youth. Marten also works as a freelance photographer in Groningen.

Jasper Been (23), is a member of GroenLinks, a party that boasts more than 1000 members in Groningen and has held seats within the council for the last 14 years. Jasper, the former chairman of DWARS (Green Party Youth Faction), holds the fifth position on his party’s candidate list. He studies economics at RUG and became politically active three years ago.

 The following dialogue is a combination of two separate interviews, the first with Marten and the second with Jasper.

*TS = The Stand, MD = Marten Duit, JB = Jasper Been

*Photo – (L-R) Marten Duit & Jasper Been

TS:  What is your party doing to make themselves known to students?

MD:  Our website is available in both Dutch and English. We felt it was very important to translate our website as this benefits the international student population. We have also set up a website called canivote.nl which has been designed to help users discover whether they are eligible to vote and secondly, how they can vote.

JB: We do a lot of campaigning door-to-door and have been making ourselves known on campus and through social media. Our manifesto is available in English for the internationals. We don’t target students specifically but there is a tendency for youths to vote for the Greens. Student en Stad plays the card of identity politics which encourages students to vote for them. The Green Party like to focus on shared values and ideas.

TS: Is your party doing anything to tackle the housing problem?

 MD: We have been petitioning for more housing to be built in Groningen and against short stay rental contracts. With a short stay contract a landlord can kick out a tenant, any time or at any moment. We want to get rid of such contracts as they have a negative impact on students’ security. It is important for students to have normal housing contracts so that they have the security of knowing that they have a roof over their head for the duration of the academic year. We have also focused our attention on the quality of landlords here in Groningen. There are a lot of bad landlords who rent out rooms or properties that are in disrepair. There are others who refuse to carry out maintenance work or are not there for their tenants. It is important that tenants are looked after and respected. Students have as much of a right to live here as anyone else.

JB: The Green Left has been one of the most vocal parties when it comes to the housing crisis. It affects all students and especially internationals. There is no easy solution but what is vital here is that internationals are not discriminated against or treated differently to Dutch students. Some parties believe that there is a demand for short stay contracts, we however disagree. We need regular rental contracts for regular long-stay students and short term contracts for exchange students only. We need to distinguish between long-stay and exchange  students when it comes to allocating housing and not between Dutch and international students. In order to facilitate the demand, we need to keep building more housing!

TS:  Sustainability and the environment are big things right now for students, what is your party doing to benefit sustainability?

MD: Student en Stad regularly work with the different student associations and discuss all sorts of things. We discuss how things might change for the better and sustainability is a big part of that. We work with ESN a lot and we have actually been working with Vindicat as well. Some of these associations have a bad reputation for various reasons but we are trying to show a positive side. We want to demonstrate that these associations believe in sustainability and are looking to implement change. For example, this soup that I’m eating right now has been supplied to this café by a company called Oma’s Soup. This company was a Vindicat initiative  set up by two girls in the association and it provides jobs for the elderly in Groningen. These two girls wanted to help the ageing population in Groningen especially those who are lonely and living in isolation. The soup is prepared by elderly and is made from vegetables that would otherwise be thrown away at the end of market hours. Ultimately, it is sustainable, provides jobs for the elderly and is made from old authentic recipes. Vindicat have received a lot of negative press and have a bad reputation as a result, but they do so much more than what they are known for. If people knew about these initiative, their perceptions might change. All this bad publicity contributes to the negative reputation that students have here in Groningen and this divides the city. We don’t want the city to be divided. We want for everyone to be able to work together.

JB: GroenLinks have been working in the municipal council for 14 years now and our continuous efforts were rewarded just two weeks ago when the European Commission awarded the Lighthouse City Prize to Groningen. This prize came with a financial incentive of €7 million as a reward for the city’s efficient energy transition in fighting climate change. Last year we managed to double the amount of solar panels used in the city. We also plan to build more windmills in industrial areas and we are looking to transform lost energy into effective energy use in our communities. In the next four years we would like to tackle the issue of energy isolation in student houses to make them more energy efficient. We are devising a scheme that will encourage landlords to invest in making their properties more energy neutral. We believe that this will save a lot of energy and bring about a more sustainable environment in our city.

TS: How do you feel the campaign is going so far?

MD:  I feel it is going the right way. We used Facebook a lot in our campaign four years ago but now we have expanded. I believe that what we are doing this time around is far more effective. Of course, we cannot predict how many seats we will get in the council. There was a poll recently and based on the results it looks like we will retain our two seats within the council. So we are hoping we will at least get these two and then in addition to that we are aiming for a third and maybe a fourth. There are close to 60,000 students here in Groningen, we need roughly 2000-2050 votes in order to get a seat. Therefore if every single student voted, hypothetically speaking, we would hold more than half the council. This is never going to happen, obviously, but it just shows how much potential there is.

JB: The campaign is going great, we have received a lot of attention from voters. We had 150 volunteers join our campaign just last Saturday. We have participated in many debates and we are delighted with how these debates turned out. We are positive for the future and open to working with most parties in a prospective coalition, including Student en Stad. But now, the main priority is to let people know of their voting rights. The bigger the turn out, the better.

TS: Which party is your biggest competition right now?

MD: I think the Green Left are our biggest competition right now, but I am comfortable with that, we have a lot of similar ideas so that’s really positive.

JB: I am not sure, voters are still deciding who they will vote for. We can’t heavily rely on the polls so it’s difficult to formulate expectations when it comes to competition.

An International Theatre Festival in the Heart of Groningen

By Dimitra Karapanagiotou

Jonge Harten Theaterfestival, a performance arts festival for young people that brings theatre to the spotlight, is coming back to Groningen for nine days, from the 16th to the 24th of November. The festival will take place in five different locations in the heart of the city.

With a 20-year history, Jonge Harten is an international festival that gives young performers the stage and the opportunity to showcase their art. The wide range of performances and activities that include experimental theatre, live music, movie screenings, discussions and more, attract around 10,000 visitors each year.

At Jonge Harten theatre and art enthusiasts can enjoy a wide selection of theatre, music and art performances in both English and Dutch. “The last few years we’ve been quite Dutch-oriented, but we now see the importance of our international population here in Groningen,” says Marc Maris, the director of Jonge Harten “We wanted to create a balance and make it approachable for both Dutch and non-Dutch audiences.”

The festival is made possible with the help of its team and over 70 volunteers, including internationals. Stefana, an international student with a love for theatre, joined the volunteer team because she “would like to get to know people from this world of theatre, and become more rooted in the theatre culture of the Netherlands.”

This year the themes that are explored through the performances focus on awkwardness and discomfort. “We chose this theme because we believe that the polarization we see in the world right now may be a result of not being able to deal with our own awkwardness and the tension we feel when meeting someone different from us,” says Maris.

The subjects of the performances range from human relationships, intimacy and inequality, to sensual pleasures and the power of silence. Maris notes that he “chose themes that are taboo, performers that look awkward or that have a different kind of look than the dominant notion of beauty.”

During the festival there will also be “awkward after performance talks” where the audience will get to share their experiences.

Every evening a party with a DJ set will take place behind the Grand Theatre and the festival will end with a party on the 24th of November in the Grand Theatre.

The festival aims to bring young people together through art for an affordable price. In addition to single performance tickets, day tickets are also available, with a special discount for people under 30.

For more information, visit http://www.jongeharten.nl/.

Tippelzone

Tippelzone Shutdown – A Tug of War Between Policy and Reality

By Clémence Waller, Edward Szekeres and Valerie Scholz

Used condoms stuck to trash cans, empty metal booths, puddles on the pavement. Silence in the air. In the final months of the Groningen Tippelzone, sex workers are left out in the cold due to stigma and bigotry. It’s the calm before the storm.

For retired sex worker Carmen Kleinegris (61), life proceeds in waves. The crest: a carefree moment, a young girl sitting in the passenger seat of an expensive sports car, blonde locks of hair dancing around her head, marvelling at the glistening sea in the moonlight. The trough: seven men around her, hours of agony, a rape that she will never forget.

“I am still an outsider 40 year later because of my experience”, sighs Carmen who went on to work as a social worker after 5 years of prostitution that helped to pay for her education.

Sex work is a highly stigmatized occupation in Dutch society. In fact, it is not accepted as a profession at all. “You have a stamp on your head: you did an abnormal job.” This reputation remains for a lifetime.

Women like Carmen feel isolated from society. “It often feels like you´re from the moon,” she says. Others are shamed into hiding part of their identity and history: “You are included in society as long as you shut your mouth about your work.”

Carmen is fighting a losing battle. Her country, the Netherlands, is dismantling one of the main features of its famously liberal prostitution policy. Dutch cities are shutting down their legal street prostitution areas, these areas are called Tippelzones. The Groningen Tippelzone will be closed down by March 2019 while the one in Utrecht will follow suit later that year.

The Groningen Tippelzone

 

A Place to Work

A small white container house hidden under overarching branches marks the entrance to the Groningen Tippelzone. This is the Housekamer. It offers a safe resting space, medical care, hot beverages and a dedicated area for drug use.

The pick-up area offers three plastic shelters against the cold autumn winds. Large bricks at the side of the road ensure that women cannot be injured by cars driving by. The road leads to an area of compartments for sexual intercourse, each separated by a wall for privacy and equipped with a trashcan for condom disposal.

The place might seem grim, but it offers something sex workers need, and don’t have when working the streets: safety. “A Tippelzone is a place where street prostitutes can legally do their job, in a controlled area”, Carmen explains. The sex workers are registered, the area is overseen by police forces and aid is provided by volunteers and social workers.

A typical workplace

Safety and Professionalism

Tippelzones were first introduced in Holland in the 1980’s, as a measure to remove street prostitution and heroin addicts from the city centre. They made the providing of health and social services for sex workers easier. The confined space allows for immediate countermeasures in case of rape and rooms for safe drug use.

The installation of Tippelzones also increased the professionalism of prostitution, according to Carmen. During her 5 years of managing the Huiskamer Aanloop Prostituees (Living Room for Prostitutes) in the Utrecht Tippelzone, she taught and organized regular courses for sex workers ranging from make-up and hair tutorials to sexual education. This was done not only for the women’s safety and education, but also to improve the image of prostitution within society.

 

No Future for Tippelzones?

While sex workers defend Tippelzones because of the safety they provide, their arguments are not often heard. The Groningen municipality decided to close the Tippelzone because they consider it to be “inhumane”. With this measure, they hope to have “fewer women in an unsafe environment”.

Not only has the city turned against the concept of the Tippelzone, but aid organizations have also turned against the Tippelzone. The Salvation Army and other charitable organizations are already working hand-in-and with the government, aiming to reintegrate former sex workers into regular life.

The Salvation Army feels that the concept of the Tippelzone is outdated. Times have changed, so have the sex workers. Before, drug-addicted prostitutes worked to afford drugs. Nowadays, women enter the Tippelzone clean, but sometimes slip into addiction due to the strains of the job and the high availability of drugs in the area. According to Carmen, around a third of the women working in the Utrecht Tippelzone are drug addicts.

“The most important thing is the women” explains Salvation Army specialist for the Tippelzones, Ineke Van Buren. She disagrees with sex workers who defend their profession, like Carmen Kleingris. “None of the women want to work in prostitution in the future”, Ineke adds.

The Salvation Army partners with the municipality to offer individual and voluntary step-out programs for the prostitutes. “We ask them, how can we help you to fulfil your dreams?”. Even after 20 unsuccessful rehab therapies, the women can always return for help. “People are not hopeless, there is always hope and we will always keep hope”, says Ineke.

But Carmen disagrees: “All these programs are just to keep everybody still.”

 

“Society is Getting Prude”

Despite good intentions, reality sometimes differs. Many sex workers disagree with the notion that the closure of the zones will lead to any positive effects on the health and safety of sex workers. They believe these closures will push them further into the shadows and make their profession more stigmatised, ostracised and dangerous.

“The entire system is a mess!” Mischa (41), a former Tippelzone sex worker, exclaims.

Despite the closure of the zone, these women will continue their work, only in riskier conditions. They will take their clients to abandoned places, hiding from both police and fines but also from safety. Even going online is dangerous, resulting in fines or worse being made homeless by landlords, she adds.

“These women feel like they have their back against the wall,” says Gonnie Lemckert (74) local charity worker and head of Straatmadelief, a sex worker aid society. Being a retired sex worker herself and having supported the prostitutes of the Tippelzone in Groningen for over 18 years, Gonnie knows “these women don’t trust anybody”. This makes counselling by organizations difficult.

Carmen believes, public perception contributes to the stigmatisation of prostitution. “We don’t want you there, so we thought the best thing is, you are going to stop. That’s bullshit”, she says.

The controversial idea that no woman wants to work in prostitution and wishes for a “normal life” has bewildered Carmen all her life. Sex work is normal to Carmen. “Many people work with their bodies in factories, handicrafts or construction why is sex work different”?

 

Tipplezone-Free Netherlands

Sex workers find that the proposed governmental measures are theoretically efficient, but doubt they are realistic. Mischa worked as an interviewer for a study investigating stigma and violence against sex workers in the Netherlands.  

The results of this research, conducted by Soa Aids Nederland in collaboration with PROUD, the Dutch Union for Sex Workers, show that prostitutes tend to enjoy their freedom, independence and find work enjoyable. This raises the question if integration into “normal life” is even desirable amongst the majority of sex workers.

Thirty years ago, society accepted prostitutes, today opinions have changed. These women face an uncertain future. Municipal policy and an increasingly conservative society further the stigma towards prostitution.

When asked what will happen to these women after the closure, Mischa laughs sarcastically. “I think they are going to marry and have a bunch of children and be a good housewife for the rest of their life”.

A life of crests and troughs have taught Carmen a valuable lesson: “It’s shit now, it’s really pure shit now… but maybe tomorrow it’s better”.

 

Oss Tragedy Flowers

A Tragedy of Errors | Ministry Mistakes Responsible for Oss Deaths?

William Macmaster

Over a month on from the deaths of four children at a level railway crossing in the sleepy Dutch city of Oss, there are still serious questions to be asked of the Ministry of Infrastructure.

On September 20 2018, four young children travelling from their nursery were struck by a train when their “stint” failed to stop at a level crossing. For days after the crash, people were still travelling from miles away to visit the site, with the sole purpose of paying their respects. The area dedicated to the victims was covered with flowers, and mourners walked up and down the road wondering how this tragedy came to be. To this day, there are still no answers. Investigations into the incident are still ongoing, but two factors seemingly contributed, stints and level crossings in The Netherlands.

The investigation has primarily raised questions surrounding child transportation methods in the Netherlands. Specifically stints, electric-powered wagons driven by a standing driver with space to carry medium-sized loads. Formerly used to transport goods, they have been used since 2011 to transport children to and from day-care centres.

In a telephone interview with The Stand a week after the incident, the then-spokesperson for the Minister of Infrastructure, who oversees the use of stints, Emrys Dijkhuis-Reuvers, (who is no longer in this position) stated, “We sent a letter to parliament stating that we don’t have information that would force us to forbid the stint, it has been accepted on our roads since 2011, and we don’t have information now at would indicate otherwise” she explained.

This policy was reversed on the 1/10/2018, when Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen ordered stints be taken off the road. This backtracking raises new concerns about the safety of stints, their involvement in the events in Oss and general confusion in the ministry overall.

Edwin Renzen, the owner and founder of the stint slated the decision as “premature”. Speaking to Dutch news organisations, NOS, he doubled down on comments made The Stand, stating, “No research has been carried out on the wreck, they are based on a working hypothesis, but that should not be a reason to prohibit immediately all stints on the public road.”

He had previously explained to The Stand that stints are fitted with three separate brakes, including an emergency brake, emphasising that the main break is connected to the throttle, so letting go of the throttle would bring it to a stop. He also found fault with the idea of electrical interference that was sighted as the cause in the early investigations into the incident.

“If there was radiation going on, I think every person with a pacemaker would die immediately over there”. He said. “To think there was enough radiation to take over the vehicle that has driven for over one and half years across the same track almost sounds like wishful thinking. Why would it only be the throttle? Why were the lights not flashing when they are all wired to the same system?” It is Mr Renzen’s belief that the “The commercial parties are looking for someone to blame.”

While he admitted that there have been some incidents with stints in the past due to gradual wear and tear, he believes the accident cannot be solely blamed on the stint itself. Noting that since stints have been legalised on Dutch roads, the amount of money paid out for insurance claims due to injured children is zero.

Meanwhile, questions also remain over the safety of level crossings within the Netherlands, a longstanding issue in the country.

A report from July 2018 by the Dutch Safety Board (DBS), established that level crossings in The Netherlands were fundamentally unsafe prior to the tragic incident in Oss. The report highlighted issues with both guarded, such as the one in Oss, and unguarded level crossings in The Netherlands. The report followed on from another report published 15 years earlier raising similar issues. Level Crossing Oss

A member of the DBS, Marjolein van Asselt, who oversaw the report, spoke to The Stand discussing these new findings in relation to the previous ones. “The Ministry should have taken the lesson from that first investigation and they didn’t. Maybe due to time, money, or other choices in policy.” She explained. “The parties involved in railroad crossings should have safety at the top of their minds because 11 dead (per year on railway crossings) is not something to deny.”

The Oss crossing is certainly a busy one, located adjacent to the Oss South train station, serving as the middle point between Oss and nearby stations such as Arnhem and S’Hertegenbosch, with around 5-10 trains passing every hour.

René Vegter, a spokesman for ProRail, who looks after the maintenance of Oss railroads defended the level crossing at Oss, saying, “The level crossing functioned the way it should be, we drew that conclusion almost immediately. There doesn’t seem to be an issue on that part.”

However, despite the Oss level crossing being the site of one of the most deadly rail incidents in Dutch history, he also stated that “it was not a big priority on our list and was not known as a very dangerous one.” When questioned about how the Stint managed to go underneath the barrier, as it reportedly did, he mentioned that while “at some locations in the Netherlands we do have something below the barrier to avoid people drive under, that’s not always the case.”

Mr Vegter went on to confirm that the situation with level crossings in the Netherlands is not ideal. “We have a saying here at ProRail that ‘the safest level crossing is no level crossing.’ We would like to get rid of them, but you have to be realistic as it takes a lot of money.” He stated. “We don’t have money on our own, everything we do is paid by the government, so what we can do about safety is limited to how much money we get from the government.”

Vegter declined to comment on the fact that the DBS report identifies the Ministry of Infrastructure as chiefly responsible for the maintenance of level crossings.

While a substantial sum of around €400 million has already been spent on renovating level crossing since 1999, it has seemingly not been enough. According to information provided by Carlijn Van Donselaar, the spokeswoman for railroads in the Netherlands, a further €200 million from the government budget has since been announced to be invested before 2028 to eliminate the remaining issues. However, this figure was announced just two weeks prior to the publication of DBS’s report, which was far too late for the victims in Oss.

While the incident in Oss remains under investigation from several parties, including the Dutch Safety Board and Pro Rail themselves, it seems there are still more questions to be asked of the Ministry of Infrastructure. This new information about stints combined with the on-going doubts over the level crossing points the finger of liability to those responsible for ensuring a harmonious flow of traffic within the Netherlands.

Her Body, His Words

By Dimitra Karapanagiotou, Hannah van der Wurff and Anne de Vries

There, on a bustling street in Brussels, dotted with bars and restaurants packed with people, walk Zoë and her friends. “Wait!” Zoë hears, and she turns around to see a man point at her behind and say, “there’s something falling out of your back pocket.” “What is it,” she urges the man while she reaches for her pockets. Her friends push for her to come along and ignore the man. As he approaches, still pointing at her behind, Zoë spots the man’s friend laughing and before she can connect the dots, the man grabs her ass.

As a reflex, she lashes out at him and yells: “Fuck off!”

“It felt like a violation of my body,” said Zoë (21), a London resident. Besides the fury and adrenaline she felt, she had been angry at herself for trusting the stranger on the street and disregarding her friends’ warning. “Ideally, we should be in a world where I shouldn’t ‘have known’.”

After the eruption of #MeToo one year ago – showing the magnitude of sexual intimidation and harassment – several European cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Paris have introduced legislation in response. The offender can be fined at an average of 190 euros in the Netherlands and up to 750 euros in France. According to a 2018 report by IOS, a statistics bureau, most of this intimidation includes whistling, catcalling, being followed, and physical harassment.

These newly enforced legislations also follow a call by UN Women and their Dutch division for municipalities to start saying #HereToo. This in the name of ‘Safe Streets’, a recent Dutch initiative to counter street intimidation, for the over 80% of women who have experienced sexual intimidation in public.

While Zoë’s example of physical harassment is gripping, it isn’t extraordinary. Many women have different experiences with street intimidation. It happens so often, Zoë said, that she’s “gotten used to it, in a sad way.”

Making her way home alone on a dark recent Tuesday night, Sophie (21), a student in Rotterdam, didn’t expect to bump into anyone in the quiet residential area where she lives. Making her way down the main road her neck hairs stood right up when she heard heavy footsteps that did not match hers. “Maybe it is just a man going home,” she thought, as she strayed off the main road to reassure herself that it was her imagination. He turned the corner with her. In the ten-minute walk that followed, she quickened her pace as the man narrowed the distance between them. Taken over by anger and fear she turned around, looked him in the eye and shouted at him to leave her alone. He bolted.

She tries not to walk home alone anymore.

Two months ago, during her stay in the US, Josien (20), an exchange student in Phoenix, Arizona, was walking around with a cart in a supermarket. She was leaning on it as she scanned the shelves. She was strolling through an aisle full of people, when, all of a sudden, a man in his sixties whistled at her and looked her up and down. She stood still and felt aware of her body. Perplexed she thought: “Are you really doing this?” She debated whether she should say something but decided to walk on.

Speaking to The Stand, neither Josien, Sophie nor Zoë were certain what they’d done to provoke the intimidation, or how they could have avoided it.

But it’s not just these explicit accounts of intimidation that jar these women. ‘The look’ that they receive every day makes you feel “like someone is undressing you with his eyes.” It is a look that makes you feel “objectified”, said Josien. It happens during the most mundane moments of daily life, such as walking home or going to class, and “you’re no longer the woman going from A to B,” but the man has taken charge of your feelings. Josien said, “I hate that that’s possible.”

The few men that agreed to speak to The Stand for this article seemed unaware that grabbing, following and catcalling cause fear.

“In your mind, you’re doing nothing wrong” said Stefano (26), a landscaper, while remembering the times he and his friends catcalled women. Driving in a car, they’d try to capture the attention of women passing by, shouting “pussy”, “mamma mia” or just making a loud noise, before driving away, laughing. It seemed like a game to them without the “intention to be offensive,” according to Stefano. They never thought about what the women felt in that moment. He said: “We always see things from a male point of view.”

Other men in Groningen expressed similar views. Hudayfah (23), a student, told The Stand he finds it hard to see the harm in whistling at a girl, although he can imagine that a girl would feel unsafe when that happens.

“I’m not permanently afraid or something,” Josien says. Each incident lasts only for a moment but it happens so often that it affects her. “You see all of the scenarios in your head.” Which is why she doesn’t engage whenever it happens, as she fears that it might get worse if she does.

Some men have started to pay attention to women’s feelings on the matter too. Stefano said this is what changed his behaviour. His girlfriend made him realize how being catcalled in the street makes girls feel and how it affects them, such as having to change their clothes, posture and behaviour when leaving the house. Now, he no longer finds catcalling funny. However, he can still understand the male perspective. He feels that as long as men don’t bring women down and treat them “like an object,” they can joke around with their friends.

Catcalling and other forms of street intimidation are also a way for men to prove themselves to other men, thinks Stefano. When feeling insecure about themselves, men “try to bring out a kind of bravery, manpower, trying to not treat the woman as an equal but as an instrument, to be equal to other men.”

Both Zoë and Josien can see how male street intimidation can be a result of vulnerability. Whether it’s an inability to communicate sexual attraction to women, or to assert some kind of power and, as Josien says, to feel like “a real haantje” (a classic alpha male).

In the end, Stefano doesn’t think that “people that catcall ever get the girl.”