Rotterdam launches campaign to end forced marriages

A Rotterdam city council poster campaign backing the right of young women to choose their own partner has drawn both mostly praise but some have criticised it for trivialising a serious problem.

The campaign, supported by women’s rights organsations Femmes for Freedom and Dona Daria, consists of four different posters showing a couple kissing in front of the city’s landmark Erasmus bridge.

They have been hung at 50 different locations around the city and will remain in place for 14 days.

In one, a woman in a Muslim headscarf kisses a man wearing a Jewish skull cap, in another, two women kiss. Each poster carries the text ‘In the Netherlands, you choose your own partner’, followed by ‘do you feel free to choose?’.

The campaign was launched by integration alderman Ronald Schneider, who represents the right-wing populist party Leefbaar Rotterdam. Schneider told the NRC he is concerned that women with an Islamic or refugee background might be stopped by a relative if they, say, choose to begin a relationship with a woman.

‘We consider it to be completely normal but not everyone does,’ he said. The fact that Dutch people were not always free to decide who to marry a couple of generations ago makes the campaign even more relevant, he said. ‘We have to protect the freedoms we have now,’ he told the paper.

Dozens of people showed their support for the campaign on social media and others called for it to be extended nation-wide.


However, local Labour party councillor Fatima Talbi told the party the poster campaign is an election student by Leefbaar Rotterdam and trivialising a serious issue.

Nourdin el Ouali, of local Muslim party Nida said the posters are ‘stereotypical, ethnocentric and provocative. ‘This is benefiting no-one,’ he said, adding that the posters are the work of an ethnocentric white man. Nevertheless, both El Ouali and Talbi said they supported the central message.

Shirin Musa from lobby group Femmes for Freedom told the Volkskrant the campaign is a ‘boundary-breaking statement’ which shows that women’s right to self-determination is central.

The council is showing ‘it supports women who are confronted with honour-related violence, forced abortions, who are told they are too western or are sent back to their country of origin to be re-educated,’ she said.

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