Jet Bussemaker is selling non-working mothers short

The female education minister’s recent comments that Dutch women are too dependent on their partners is unfair and ignores the need for good parenting, writes blogger Ellen Duckenfield.

Jet Bussemaker, minister for education, culture and science, recently stated that women should be self-reliant and not dependent on men’s incomes.

In The Netherlands, women are not translating their level of education into an equivalent career. They should stop feeling guilty towards their families, the minister said, and instead honour the state’s investment in their education.

How? Well, here’s the problem. Bussemaker doesn’t say.

The idea that women should not be undervalued is fine, but the minister is scapegoating women, accusing them of causing their own economic ‘failings’. She adds to the attack by telling women how to feel about leaving their children to go to work. In Bussemaker’s version of emancipation the workplace rules.

Wages for housework

Are there no other reasons that it’s harder for women to reach their potential? By laying the blame with women, she is conveniently ignoring the existing problems with gender inequality.

The Dutch government recently tried to veto the European parliament’s plans for a quota of 40% women to make up boards of directors of AEX index companies. Ironic then that Bussemaker chooses to focus on women’s obligation to the state.

I thought we had been through this debate in the 1970’s. I remember women of my mother’s generation campaigning for ‘wages for housework’.

Women who stay at home lose their confidence precisely because their job as a mother is not valued. These women are bringing up children, providing security, educating and preparing them so they don’t end up being a burden on the state.


Yet they are reduced to the labels ‘stay at home mums’ and ‘dependents’. These women probably don’t need Jet Bussemaker to remind them to feel worthless. Parents are seen as an inconvenience to the poor taxpayer. When they return to work this doesn’t encourage them to feel welcome.

Mothers in the Netherlands receive only 16 weeks maternity leave, there have been cuts in childcare subsidies and the pay gap in the Netherlands is higher than the European average. Men get just two days paid paternity leave.

If women are still expecting to earn less, perhaps it is commonsense for them to ‘depend’ on a man’s income. It’s a whole cultural shift that’s needed if we want progress on gender equality rather than it being a simple case of women pulling their finger out.

Maternity leave

Jet Bussemaker herself is a great example to women. In 2000 when she had a baby she refused to take any maternity leave. Why did she do this? Was it her intention to guilt-trip those of us who ‘depend’ on our maternity rights, taking time to bond with our babies or to recover from surgery?

By pulling the no-maternity-leave stunt Bussemaker has added to an existing myth that childbirth and childrearing is no big deal. Not prioritising maternity is just another form of discrimination against women.

To encourage us to send kids to a crèche from the age of three months, Bussemaker’s party is telling us that children in daycare are doing just fine. It is good for social skills and language acquisition. They also reassure parents that it’s a perfect way to pick up any developmental problems early on. Parents are being programmed from the outset to accept the current situation.


There are numerous reports on daycare and I’m not saying it’s always inferior, but I would prefer to make my own decisions as a parent. There is a lot of advice and hundreds of books on parenting, but we also follow our intuition and work out what our children need as we get to know them. That’s our job as their parents. A blanket assertion that crèche is good doesn’t give us the whole picture.

I wonder if Jet Bussemaker was breastfeeding when she decided not to take maternity leave. Research has proven that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is best for the baby. In the Netherlands 75% of women breastfeed initially but by the time a baby is three months this has decreased to only 29%.

Not all mothers breastfeed but you would expect, in the light of the evidence, the government would encourage us. Pumping breast milk from a cold back office feels soulless. It also may trigger some of those pesky hormones to remind us we’re missing out on being with our babies. It’s no wonder that women give up.

When my children grow up I hope there is more equality between the sexes at work and at home. I hope my daughter and my son end up being good parents to their own kids and are sufficiently supported to reach their potential in their careers.

Being a good parent to them right now may increase their chances.

Read more at Runofthewindmill

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