blog post | 11-10-2021 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
When Laura lived in Brazil at the age of 17, she saw the consequences of minimal sex education. Laura Bas (24) from Amsterdam is now the new youth ambassador for sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality and freedom of choice. ‘Young women just level up more easily with their peers.’
As the new youth ambassador, Laura’s task in the coming year will be to give the voice of youth a place in Dutch government policy. National and international.
For a year, Laura works together with the senior diplomat Pascalle Grotenhuis, the Dutch ambassador for women’s rights and gender equality. Together they keep women’s rights and gender equality high on the international agenda.
Attention to gender equality is and remains very much needed, also in the Netherlands. Laura can talk about it from her own experience. The girl from North Holland grew up without a biological father and saw how other people sometimes looked at her and her mother. ‘My mother has always continued to work. She wanted to be financially independent. So people thought I was pathetic because my mother worked a lot. Well. As an ambitious woman, you are still 2-0 behind in the job market.’
During her study of Culture, Organization and Management, Laura advocated for greater gender equality in the labor market. She volunteered for Dress For Success, a foundation that provides women (and men) with free clothing and job application advice.
The Masters student also approached MEPs Vera Tax and Agnes Jongerius to do something about the pay gap between men and women. As part of the ‘Because I deserve it’ project, the three women gave workshops to almost a hundred young women on how to reduce the wage gap.
‘Society is still not ready for women who have ambitions and want to make a career. Currently, women are the majority in colleges and universities. I would like to see this reflected in the labor market.’
How do you become a youth ambassador?
‘Youth ambassador is a job that you simply have to apply for in the first place. But of course the point is that you really want to improve the position of young people all over the world. That drive has always been in me, I think in part because of how I was raised. I closely followed my predecessors Justine van Beek and Lisa de Pagter for a while, which has inspired me greatly.’
You have lived with a host family in Brazil for a year. How did that shape you?
‘When I was in Brazil, I saw with my own eyes the consequences of minimal sex education. For example, my host sister (22) got pregnant unexpectedly last year. In Brazil you immediately have a big problem, because any form of abortion is prohibited there. So if you get pregnant at a young age, it is very difficult to complete your studies. Can you imagine how drastic that is for someone’s life? That was a real eye opener for me.
What will you commit to as a youth ambassador?
‘I want to advocate for a broader form of sex education throughout the world, in professional terms, Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). It is not just about the biological or medical aspect of sex, but about all the questions that young people may have about sexuality. So also the pleasure in sex, desires and limits.
Also, I want to work to break the taboos surrounding menstruation. There is still a huge stigma attached to this in many countries. Think of the girls who do not go to school when they are menstruating. Or women who are not allowed to prepare food during their period, because this is thought to lead to infections. By the way, there are still thousands of women and girls in the Netherlands who cannot afford menstrual products. So there is work to be done.
The theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl is ‘Digital Generation. Our generation’. Is gender equality an issue online too?
‘I received a new report from Plan International together with Karen Burbach, head of the Working Group on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. This shows that girls show less ambition due to all the misinformation online. They think their vote doesn’t matter. That has to be different.
I think that social networks can be a risk for young women, for example, if you constantly see the masculine worldview being confirmed. But if you manage to get out of your bubble, they also present an opportunity. Consciously follow young female leaders and you will see that the algorithm also suggests other inspiring women. So you use online media to your advantage.
For my position, social networks can be very valuable to connect with young people from all over the world in an accessible way. Therefore, next year I want to do more with social media to answer young people’s questions and raise awareness on various issues.’
What do you think is the biggest challenge when it comes to women’s rights around the world?
“Several rich countries are now slowly emerging from the pandemic. But corona has ensured that the rights and freedoms of women and girls have been rolled back around the world. Many more girls have accidentally gotten pregnant, just like my host sister. As a youth ambassador, I now have the platform to bring more attention to this and put sex education more broadly on the agenda.
This month I will moderate a conversation at UNICEF with my predecessor Lisa de Pagter. A youth participation workshop is also on the program during UN Night. I think it’s important to think about what they need together with young women. I think that’s the biggest added value of a youth ambassador: young women just level up more easily with their peers.’