While decades of feminist, anti-racist, pro-LGBTQIA+, pro-sex work, anti-ableist activism have in general ensured good Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights in the Netherlands, not every group benefits equally from these gains. Moreover, there are still many harmful ideas and behaviors that are normalized in upbringing, education, media, and daily life.
During her studies, Suzanne Vink realized that many things she grew up thinking were ‘normal’ were, in fact, not. For instance, that odd family friend who insisted on making her the center of attention with ‘cute’ kisses on her hand which she could never escape; the fully-grown men whistling at her when she walked topless at age six; the colleagues in restaurants where she worked who kept groping her behind. Though these might seem relatively ‘innocent’ examples, they hide a much darker reality: 73 percent — or 4,3 million women in the Netherlands — have been sexually intimidated (source: Emancipator), and one in five women in the Netherlands has been raped (source: Amnesty International). The numbers become worse for other vulnerable groups, such as people living with a disability (72 percent of intellectually disabled women and 44 percent of intellectually disabled men in the Netherlands have experienced sexual violence (source: Sociale Vraagstukken)).
Suzanne believes that a focus on consent as the prerequisite in social interactions can help prevent a lot of harm and make it easier to get justice for victims/survivors when not their intentions but those of the perpetrator are questioned. It also plans to bring pleasure into the conversation: consent is not just about boundaries, but also about preferences. When everyone gets to apply explicit, informed, enthusiastic consent, we may experience society as a happier and safer place for everyone. Everyone in this case really means everyone. It is important to constantly apply an intersectional lens and specifically explain the different ways consent and SRHR are experienced by different groups in society.
Through this project Suzanne wanted to bring this conversation to her home city of Zwolle. Especially in the more conservative countryside, even well-established organizations have a hard time getting a foothold. Through her large network of students and ties at Windesheim university of applied sciences, she started a grassroots campaign to normalize consent. She chose to focus on students because as a recent student and lecturer, she has closer ties with this demographic. Moreover, many social change projects tend to focus on high schools, but consent is a specially important topic for people who are becoming independent adults and finding their own way in the world.
Suzanne initiated an educational Instagram account, worked with students on a week-long collaborative graffiti project that engaged passers-by in the city, worked with students on a two-week exhibition that visualized and explained sexual violence and consent, has been requested for a few workshops and a local radio interview, and organized an interactive webinar hosting Fairspace. She has built a local team for the #LetsTalkAboutYes campaign by Amnesty International and collaborated on their manifest for universities, which will be the main focus of the campaign from June onwards. Suzanne’s campaign will continue to engage students, address campus safety, and build intersectional partnerships.
The Action Project is not over, it is only the beginning.