UTRECHT – Some people showcase interest in politics from early on in life, while many aspire to become presidents and ministers on the island of Aruba. This wasn’t the case with Michelle Hooyboer-Winklaar. The 46-year-old mother of two was comfortably working as a manager in the communication world, when the opportunity to get on the list of the Arubaanse Volks Partij (AVP) knocked on her door. Then, she went on to becoming the only woman with a minister position in cabinet Eman.
It was in the year 2003. Hooyboer-Winklaar who was raised in Canada by her Aruban parents, had recently moved back to the island. Not only was she doing just fine working for the private sector, which she had been doing since obtaining her bachelors in psychology. Her idea of contributing to the community involved doing voluntary work and simply being a good person.
So, when she was asked if she could join the political party, her immediate response was a ‘no’.
“Politics did not interest me, I didn’t think I would fit, besides I had no experience at all”
she states. Eventually, politics were presented to her with another face. It was then when she realised that if she had ever wanted to make a long lasting change in society then this was it. Accompanied by the fact that they were barely any women in politics on the island, Hooyboer-Winklaar got her thoughts together and decided to go for it.
Women in politics
2009 arrived and with it the elections, AVP overthrew Movimiento Electoral di Pueblo (MEP) which had been governing the island for eight years. They got 12 seats out of 20 in the parliament, thus the majority. Hooyboer-Winklaar was given the profile of social affairs, economic affairs and culture. The only female in six male ministers. In the elections of 2013, AVP won again, this time Hooyboer-Winklaar got the education profile. Again, she is the only female in eight male ministers. But this inequality in gender when it comes to politics isn’t only an Aruban problem.
Statistics provided by Unicef show that women are underrepresented in politics almost all over the world. There has been some improvement over the years, yes, but it is not enough.
According to Unicef, in july of 2007 women made up less than 17 percent of parliamentarians worldwide. It is also stated that ten countries have no women parliamentarians, while in over 40 more countries women only make up 10 percent of the legislators. If things keep going the way they are now, gender balance in national legislatures will be unheard of until 2068. The growth is at zero point five percent annually. Although, some countries like Chile, Sweden and Spain have achieved this. Women still account less than one in 10 of the mayor’s in the world, in local levels.
Being a woman in a patriarchal world is hard, being a woman in politics in even harder, says Hooyboer Winklaar. According to her, there are three ways in which people try to trivialize women in leadership positions. The first one being sexual defamation, the second one is to insult their intelligence. The assumption that they have no clue what they’re talking about and when all of that fails they go for their integrity and question their ethics. She has experienced all of them in her six years as a minister. “And of course the looks, the looks are always up for question every time of the day” says Hooyboer -Winklaar. The sexism comes both from within her own party and the outside world. She has dealt with everything from being accused of having both male and female lovers, to having a sextape.
Earlier this year, Alexandra Lugaro, who is running for governor of the island of Puerto Rico also released a similar statement. She too wishes the media would stop focusing on what she looks like and hear her message.
Long term goals
Disregarding all the bad parts, the job has its good ones too. “It fills me with pride to see all the positive changes we’ve made through the years. I liked the profile of education the most because I was able to take decisions that would create an impact people will see throughout time. As opposed to social affairs where people wanted quicker solutions.” Hooyboer- Winklaar states.
What makes it the most difficult, is the fact that she has to focus on taking decisions that
will benefit the majority. Her biggest hope is to achieve getting the education system on the island to the point where there is more focus on children who struggle to learn. She believes that the smart kids will make it, they will thrive against the odds, but it is the ones who need more support that need us to not leave them behind. On the days where she feels like the whole world is on her shoulders, she looks in the eyes of her two kids for inspiration. “I want them to view me as their role model, they are the reason I work so hard, the reason I want to do what is right” Hooyboer-Winklaar says.