Social issues: Discrimination in the Netherlands

Internationals face numerous experiences living abroad, many of which include the meeting of different cultures. Unfortunately, some of these new experiences may include discrimination.

Discrimination shall not be permitted

Article 1 of the Dutch Constitution states: "All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race, or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted."

However, even when a country advocates publicly against discrimination it doesn’t negate the fact that it does occur. Despite its liberal and tolerant image, the Netherlands isn’t free of ignorant people. No country in the world is.

The delicate art of interpretation

However, unlike living in your home country where you might be able to more easily label a prejudiced interaction with certainty, living abroad adds the delicate art of interpretation. Could certain stares be simple, though insensitive, curiosity or could it be hostility?

Being discriminated against while living abroad has the added challenge of trying to figure out just how the person is judging you. When a person is judging you based on your race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or religion it can make one feel helpless.

This can be intensified when living in a foreign country where your normal support systems are no longer available, or at the moment, unknown.

Adding insult to injury when living abroad, even if you are certain you are being discriminated against, you can run up against the argument that you are not interpreting the cultural differences correctly. This makes knowing avenues of support essential.

Are you being discriminated against?

The most important thing to remember is that once you have determined that you are being discriminated against, or that you are witnessing discrimination, you have avenues of recourse.

In the Netherlands, there are organisations with which you can lodge your complaints. Some of these include, but are not limited to, the ones below:
› Radar
 Het College voor de Rechten van de Mens
 Bureau Discriminatiezaken

Be sure to check your local area for regional bureaus.

Most diversity organisations suggest that action is something you should take. However, per a 2009 study done by Art.1, a Dutch anti-discrimination bureau, reveals that as many as 70 percent of people do not register complaints due to the impression that reporting will not change the mentality of those who discriminate.

In the end, you must decide the right course of action but most researchers' experience suggests that if one does nothing, these situations do not change or can become worse.

Discrimination in the Netherlands

Trying to figure out the state of discrimination in the Netherlands, especially in comparison to other countries, is no easy task.

For instance if one reads the ENAR Factsheet it states, "To date, no reliable micro database has been produced to permit a European cross-country analysis... The strategy on collecting and using statistics on ethnic or national origin ranges from official encouragement to legal prohibition in the Member States. Only few Member States provide data broken down by ethnicity."

Despite the lack of capacity to compare the Netherlands with other EU countries, there are, however, publications (primarily in Dutch) that try to report on as broad an array of issues as possible. The most recent national report correlated by several anti-discrimination agencies documented that a total of 6.391 recorded incidents of discrimination were reported in 2011!

More, regionally, RADAR, collects information and offers support in the areas of Brabant-Noord (BN), Midden- en West-Brabant (MWB), Rotterdam-Rijnmond (RR) and Zuid-Holland-Zuid (ZHZ). Each year they produce a yearly overview of reported incidents of discrimination. In 2012 there were a total of 873 reported incidents in the aforementioned locations.

Het College voor de Rechten van de Mens also produces a yearly report whose 2012 publication will come out on May 20, 2013. They also often produce an accompanying video.

No matter the statistics, helping organisations keep track of incidents by reporting acts of discrimination allows them to create change by giving them the information needed to influence policy. Additionally, contacting them allows you to get direct assistance / guidance with your particular problem.

Important questions

Though from another country, the Anti-Discrimination Board of New South Wales checklist has helpful advice of what to do when you are being discriminated against.

For instance from their checklist I find the following questions important to consider:
› Do you know whom to approach?
 Do you know what you want to say?
 Are you calm enough to express yourself clearly?
 Do you wish to have someone support you through the process?
 What do you want to do if the issue isn’t address to your satisfaction?

These are all important questions to address as one starts the process of reporting.

In a nutshell...

Everyone wishes for a pleasant experience abroad. Often it is. However, when it isn’t, it is good to know what support systems are in place to address one’s concerns.

Christine  Fischer


Christine Fischer

Christine Fischer holds an M.A. & a M.Ed. in multicultural counseling psychology from TC, Columbia University, NYC. She created FischersFiresidechats discussions, workshops, and seminars to foster warm, informal, yet informed...

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