Fundamentalist Christians appoint first woman
Party lifted ban on women after court ruling
Ruling allowed Lilian Janse (40) to break with SGP tradition yesterday and take on the job as the party’s campaign leader in Vlissingen
A Dutch fundamentalist Christian political party which opposed female suffrage and fought an unsuccessful court case last year to avoid having to field female candidates, has finally appointed its first woman to a senior position.
The SGP – also known as the Reformed Political Party because of its Calvinist roots – is an orthodox Protestant party with its power base in the Netherlands’ Bible Belt. It has fought a long-running battle with the Dutch state over its view that women should not be involved in politics.
The party – which has three seats in parliament and believes government should be run “entirely on the basis of the ordinances of God” – was founded in 1918 as a breakaway from a larger Protestant group which decided to accept votes for women.
It was first challenged in the courts in 2005 when judges in The Hague ruled that it should no longer receive government subsidies if it refused to allow women to hold official positions or run for election.
That prompted a change of heart at its congress the following year: it lifted the ban on female membership, opened its leadership positions to women, and agreed to allow mixed candidate lists for elections.
Some claimed this meant little in practice, however, and in 2010 the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that not alone was the SGP obliged to allow women to stand for election – the state was obliged to ensure they had this right in reality.
This ruling was appealed by the SGP last year to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, on the grounds that the party’s political philosophy should take precedence over issues of non-discrimination, and that women who wanted a political career had a wide choice of other parties.
The European Court rejected that appeal, saying “equality of the sexes is a major goal in the member states of the Council of Europe”.
That ruling allowed Lilian Janse (40) to break with SGP tradition yesterday and take on the job as the party’s campaign leader in Vlissingen, in the southwest, for local elections to be held next spring.