The Aletta Jacobs Prize will be awarded for the seventeenth time on International Women’s Day. The University of Groningen (RUG) will present this award on March 8, in honor of the first student to complete her studies at a Dutch university, Aletta Jacobs (1854-1929). Jacobs began her medical studies in Groningen in 1871 and received her doctorate there in 1879. Every two years, this award, named after Jacobs, is given ‘to an academically educated woman who has made a contribution nationally and /or international in the field of emancipation’. Previous winners include women like Hedy d’Ancona, Neelie Kroes, Els Borst and Lilianne Ploumen.
The 2022 Aletta Jacobs Prize will be awarded this year to Rebecca Gomperts. Gomperts was born in 1961 in Paramaribo in Suriname, but she moved to Vlissingen at a young age. After having combined a study of conceptual art at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam with a study of medicine, she decided to choose to continue in the world of medicine. She began her career as a ship’s doctor and environmentalist on Greenpeace’s flagship, Rainbow Warrior II. During her trips with the environmental organization to Central and South America, she is moved by the heartbreaking stories of the women she meets there. She tells him how much they suffer from their limited access to contraception and the frankly unsafe situation surrounding illegal abortions.
In places where abortion is prohibited or simply not available, unwanted pregnant women or girls often seek ways to terminate their pregnancies early. Such illegal abortion, performed by themselves, a family member, or untrained staff, carries many medical risks and thus has many deaths. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is believed that around 45% of all abortions performed worldwide between 2010 and 2014 were unsafe. In Central and South America this percentage was even higher, here it was even 3 out of 4 abortions.
women in the waves
This situation inspires Gomperts to take action. He decides to campaign for the right to abortion and access to safe abortion throughout the world. For example, he devises a radical plan to be able to continue performing abortions in places where it is prohibited or almost impossible. This plan took shape in 1999 at her non-profit organization Women on Waves. This organization has the task of ‘preventing unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion, anywhere in the world’.
Women on Waves does this in a special way, namely in their mobile clinic from a boat. The only implication here is that this ship must sail under the Dutch flag. A ship flying the Dutch flag must comply with Dutch law in international waters. This means that by continuing to sail outside the territorial waters of countries where abortion is illegal, Dutch laws are in force. In this way, Women on Waves can legally and safely perform abortions, offer contraceptives, and provide information and training to girls and women without legal consequences for either party. The Women on the Waves 1999 – 2010 archive is included in the Atria Collection.
women on the web
With the same desire and passion, Gomperts founded her second non-profit organization Women on Web in 2005. Women on Web is a digital community for women and girls who have had, want or support abortion rights. The organization answers and helps access thousands of emails in multiple languages every day with questions about abortion or contraception. For example, women around the world can request an online consultation with a specialist doctor, order contraceptives, or have abortion pills prescribed and shipped. This form of telemedicine, in which Gomperts and her organization operate, has been classified by the WHO as ‘safe and highly effective’ and has already provided help, care and support to thousands of women and girls around the world.
The situation in the Netherlands
Gomperts was told on September 28, 2021 last year that she had won the 2022 Aletta Jacobs Award. Not entirely coincidental. On this date it is safe abortion day†
‘Unfortunately, safe abortion is still not self-evident and women’s rights are under pressure around the world. The jury thanks Rebecca Gomperts for her impressive fight for these rights and for the courage with which she works tirelessly for women around the world.’
According to Gomperts, there are still gains to be made in our own country. The Netherlands would even lag behind in the field of abortion legislation, says Gomperts. For example, an unwanted pregnancy can only be terminated early by visiting a special abortion clinic. There, the abortion pill is prescribed by clinic employees. Gomperts would like to see this change and she advocates that GPs can now prescribe them so that women can visit the pharmacy immediately after their doctor’s visit. There are only a limited number of abortion clinics in the Netherlands, which means that women sometimes have to travel far to obtain an abortion pill. D66, GroenLinks, PvdA and VVD already submitted a legislative amendment proposal in 2018. They also argue that the general practitioner should be allowed to prescribe the abortion pill in an accessible way. The proposal is now being discussed in the House of Representatives in 2022.
A tentative breakthrough?
In February 2021, the same parties submitted another amendment to the law. This has already been voted on by the House of Representatives. This refers to the abolition of the mandatory 5-day reflection period that is still required by law for women who wish to have an abortion. Last February 2022, two thirds of the deputies voted in favor of repealing this law. The parties involved are of the opinion that this period of reflection is paternalistic, unnecessary and above all condescending towards women. Later this year, the Senate will also consider this possible amendment to the law and determine whether the cooling-off period for abortion will actually go away. The preliminary investigation into this will coincidentally start on March 8, 2022, on International Women’s Day.
In the place where Gomperts will receive his award that day, Jacobs began his studies exactly 150 years earlier. This is very special for the RUG:
“In 2021, Gomperts is as passionately and inspiringly committed to women’s health rights as Jacobs was in her day, so we couldn’t have wished for a more fitting winner this year.”
For example, Jacobs introduced the pessary to the Netherlands in 1882, the most reliable birth control method for women until the advent of the pill in 1962. Like Jacobs, Gomperts is also innovative and progressive in her work and not afraid to cross the limits. of what is permissible to achieve her goals, as she does with her work on the Women on Waves ship, for example. Due to Gomperts’ tireless fight to put safe and legal abortion on the global political agenda, it is only fitting that she is receiving the 2022 Aletta Jacobs Award for this on March 8.
From 3:00 p.m. the ceremony can be followed live through this link
On Rebecca Gomperts and her work:
About abortion (safe):
About Aletta Jacobs:
Photo: Jarek Sawiuk, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Cleo Bouwman, Master’s student Cultural History of Modern Europe, Collections Fellow
The Atria Library and Archive, in the heart of Amsterdam, houses one of the largest collections on women, gender and diversity in the world. The In the News section responds to current topics and developments in relevant documentation and publications within the collection.
The Aletta Jacobs Lessons, an educational program with four educational clips and accompanying lesson packs about Aletta Jacobs’ multi-faceted struggle.