Adrienne van Melle-Hermans – Netherlands (1931 – 2007)

Adrienne van Melle-Hermans passed away in August 2007

She was one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

At 73, an age when most would settle for retirement, Adrienne van Melle-Hermans is busy trying to resolve the biggest challenge facing Dutch society today: seeing the increasingly widening gulf between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – Dutch-born white people and immigrants and their children – she’s determined to bridge the gap … // … Changing people’s minds: Adrienne explains that Theo van Gogh’s killing was personally poignant because the suspect, Mohammed Bouyeri, grew up where she lives now. He went to the same school as her daughter (though not at the same time) and was a regular visitor at a community centre where Adrienne had been president for many years. Now, whenever she ventures out, she sees an area in rapid decline: empty shops, so-called ‘black’ schools almost entirely made up of students from immigrant backgrounds and growing ethnic tensions. But, while many point to religion as the root of today’s troubles, Adrienne prefers to focus on cultural similarities rather than differences … (full long text, 28-06-2005).

She said: “Born in a wealthy part of our planet, I feel an obligation to dedicate myself to work for a more just society, globally and in my community. This is one way to bring durable peace a little nearer”. (1000peacewomen).

1000 vrouwen die genomineerd waren voor de Nobelprijs voor de Vrede: Op 29 juni 2005 werden de namen van 1000 vrouwen bekend gemaakt die waren genomineerd voor de Nobelprijs voor de Vrede 2005. Onder de vrouwen – afkomstig uit 150 landen – waren vijf vrouwen uit Nederland vanwege hun toewijding en werk voor vrede en mensenrechten. ‘1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005′ was een gemeenschappelijke inspanning om het werk van vrouwen voor vrede over de hele wereld te erkennen … (full text).

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Adrienne van Melle-Hermans – Netherlands  (1931 – 2007)

She worked for Vrouwen voor Vrede (Women for Peace). To find a long list of Netherland’s peace movements click on Interessante links down in the right column.

Voortrekker Vrouwen voor Vrede overleden: 24.08.2007 – Op 23 augustus is overleden Adrienne van Melle-Hermans. Met haar overlijden heeft de Nederlandse vredesbeweging één van haar leiders verloren. Decennialang was zij één van de voortrekkers van Vrouwen voor Vrede. Zij liep mee voorop in de vredeslobby, steunde zeer actief vredesvrouwen overzee en was jarenlang de vertegenwoordiger van Vrouwen van Vrede in het overleg met andere vredesorganisaties. Haar betrokkenheid, trouwe inzet en kennis zullen we node missen. Namens IKV Pax Christi, Marijke van Grafhorst, voorzitter IKV. (IKVpaxChristi.nl).

She was mentionned in grandmothers-for-peace-international-newsletter-may-1999.

Find her and her publications on Google Book-search and on Google Group-search.

She said also: … ““I was born in 1931 into a rather well-to-do family. It was important that we lived in Arnhem, [because] a few years later we were at war. That meant that for nine months we were in the middle of a battle and later had to be evacuated […] That was September 1944. I think that made it clear for me; I had experience of war and also the bad experience of going somewhere that people don’t like to receive you. It wasn’t their fault. They didn’t have enough to eat for their own children […] so it was a difficult time to be somewhere you aren’t welcome” … and: “With the assistance of a professor of ethics in the theological faculty, we organised study journeys to marginalised churches in Eastern Europe. That wasn’t well accepted because I was a member of the Christian Student Movement and we said ‘in order to understand the people of Eastern Europe, we need to learn something about communism’. For one week we studied Marx and people in the Christian Union said ‘you should be studying the gospel of Matthew’ so there was conflict over that” … and: “The UN has now passed Resolution 1325 saying that women have to be more involved in conflict solution and the reconstruction of countries. For a long time, I found that it was the men in the governments who made peace, but that peace can only happen on the ground if the women are involved. Women don’t tend to have a high rank in society, so in countries like former Yugoslavia, they’re less nationalistic and more willing to work with the enemy” … and: “A lot of people don’t like to hear that you have to make a difference between radical Muslims and Muslims as a whole. It’s stupid. We have a duty to make the difference” … (full long text).

(On 1000peacewomen): Adrienne van Melle-Hermans has been tirelessly battling the polarization of her native country for many years. She fights racism, fosters cooperation between religions, and spreads understanding between women of many cultures at many different levels. She has represented Women for Peace at conferences, workshops, and across all media. Adrienne also works extensively at grassroots level, setting up meetings and discussions in homes and community centers, reaching out to those women herself.

Although illness curtails some of her activities, her fight goes on.At an age when most of us would settle for an argument about the Netherland’s greatest artist, Adrienne van Melle-Hermans is trying to resolve the biggest challenge facing Dutch society today. She does not just want to bridge what she sees as an increasingly widening gulf between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ she wants to be the bridge. Recently, recovering in hospital from major surgery, she had regular visits from groups from her home neighborhood in Amsterdam. The women from the Moroccan Berber culture wanted to join the multi-cultural meetings to try to improve their community but were not allowed to by their husbands. Adrienne came up with the bright idea of moving the group to a primary school, a place where their husbands would be happy for them to go. Problem solved.

At 73, and suffering from poor health, Adrienne is, much to her own frustration, slowing down, but in these rocky times for Dutch society, she has no plans to throw in the towel yet.

She remembers:“I was born in 1931 into a rather well-to-do family. It was important to my life that we lived in Arnhem, because a few years later we were at war. That meant that for nine months we were in the middle of a battle and later had to be evacuated from the town. That was September 1944. I think that made it clear for me; I had an experience of war and also the bad experience of going where people do not want to receive you. It was not their fault. They did not have enough to eat for their own children… so it was a difficult time to be somewhere where you are not welcome.”

It is this rather unsettling start in life which spurred Adrienne on to help others who do not feel welcome wherever they end up. While studying at Leiden University during the chilliest time in the Cold War years, Adrienne was once again struck by the ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality: “With the assistance of a professor of ethics in the theological faculty, we organized study journeys to marginalized churches in Eastern Europe. That was not well accepted because I was a member of the Christian Student Movement and we said “in order to understand the people of Eastern Europe, we need to learn something about communism. So, for one week we studied Marx and the people in the Christian Union said ‘you should be studying the Gospel of Matthew’ so there was conflict over that.”

The reactions she got to her controversial trip eastwards set Adrienne thinking about why there was so much suspicion — from both sides. She decided that the tightly shut iron curtain was a useful excuse for western governments to arm themselves to the hilt. And so Adrienne the activist was born.

In 1979 she was a founding member of the Dutch branch of Women for Peace. “It is typical of women that they start a ‘movement’ rather than an organization,” she says. Originally based in Switzerland, the movement began to take off and Adrienne was given the job of heading up its International Task Force.

The Women for Peace agenda was not just about banning the bomb: all the work they did was acted out from a feminist perspective. Even now, Adrienne can impressively reel off the dates and locations of United Nations World Conferences on Women: “1980 Copenhagen, 1985 Nairobi, 1995 Beijing.” And it was at these grand get-togethers that our unarmed women’s warrior picked up plenty of contacts and came face-to-face with the victims of sexism from many other parts of the world.

“Of course in the Netherlands it is not bad, but it is not as it should be: there still are not equal possibilities for men and women. But compare it with other parts of the world, where there are armed conflicts, hunger, poverty and real discrimination against women. I am in the relatively privileged situation of being born in the Netherlands and it makes you feel that you have the responsibility for doing something.”
That something has evolved into much more than trying to rescue women from a terrible plight. Her strong belief is that women are problem solvers and should be more involved in ending conflicts. Like the Netherlands themselves, Adrienne found herself deeply involved in dealing with the fallout from the Balkans conflict of the 1990s, which saw Yugoslavia breaking up on a wave of nationalism. She says:
“The United Nations has now passed Resolution 1325 saying that women have to be more involved in conflict resolution and the reconstruction of countries. For a long time, I found that it was the men in the governments who made peace, but that peace can only happen on the ground if the women are involved. Women do not tend to have a high rank in society, so in countries like former Yugoslavia, they are less nationalistic and more willing to work with the enemy.”

Even as she says this, Adrienne is struck by a contradiction. Of course she would prefer women to be in the high ranks of society making the decisions, but she thinks that problem solving on a smaller scale is a reasonable alternative – at least for now.

One of her greatest achievements has been to aid women and children traumatized by the Balkans war by helping set up a therapy center in Bosnia. The Dutch may have a reputation for being careful with their money, but Adrienne is proud to recount the generosity of her fellow country people in funding the venture: “In 1991 Women for Peace did not have any money, so we put an advert in the newspaper de Volkskrant asking for help. We wanted to say that there should be a tribunal to punish war crimes from the former Yugoslavia. The advert cost a lot of money because it was in for two days, but so many people came with their names and asked how they could help. They signed a petition and we wanted to send it to our Minister of Foreign Affairs who was then Pieter Kooijmans. We ended up presenting the petition in the Dutch parliament and there were all these women from the movement. I was standing next to Mr. Kooijmans and I gave him this petition and he started to….well he started to cry.”

It was soon obvious that it was not just the Minister who felt emotional about the women and children damaged by war. The money left over from the first appeal paid for the therapy center which opened in 1994. Adrienne says to this day she still gets a subsidy of 455 euros a month to pay for their work.

What happened in the Balkans is a classic example of ethnic groups who had happily lived side-by-side for years suddenly turning on each other. On a lesser scale, the Netherlands is now experiencing its own period of ethnic hatred. For a country which has always been praised for its tolerance, this comes as something of a shock to Adrienne. She believes:“A lot of people do not like to hear that you have to make a difference between radical Muslims and Muslims as a whole. It is stupid. We have a duty to make the difference.”

The myth of the Dutch experience of tolerance (which in reality lets migrants in, but keeps them in ghettos) was gruesomely exposed in the murder of Theo van Gogh in November 2004. The controversial filmmaker was killed by a radical Muslim angry at Van Gogh’s attacks on his beliefs. The murder blew the lid off already simmering tensions. Just as Adrienne might have begun contemplating putting her feet up and retiring, her negotiating skills were needed more than ever. The ‘them’ and ‘us’ battle was right on her doorstep.

Through her work with Multicultural Women Peacemakers in the Netherlands she went out visiting her neighbors in Amsterdam. She organized a meeting with Muslim women in the city’s east district where the murder took place. At first reluctant to talk about it, she persuaded them to open up about their feelings and later they admitted to being grateful for a bit of what they called “solidarity.”

Adrienne explains that Theo van Gogh’s killing was personally poignant because the suspect, Mohammed Bouyeri, grew up where she lives now. He went to the same school as her daughter (though not at the same time) and Bouyeri was a regular visitor at a community center where Adrienne had been president for many years. Now when she ventures out, she sees an area in rapid decline: empty shops, schools almost entirely containing students of immigrant backgrounds (white Dutch parents do not want their kids going there) and growing ethnic tensions.

While many may point to religion as being the root cause of today’s troubles, Adrienne prefers to focus on the cultural similarities rather than the differences. “I try to bring together conflicting groups, Amsterdam’s Jewish women and Muslim women and Christians to help them find their way in Dutch society.” But she is also well aware that it is not always that simple.

“I am also a member of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, which brings all the religions together to try to do something. But people in power many times misuse religion in order to put populations against each other.” And unlike the acres of newsprint in the Netherlands screaming about repressed Muslim women she is careful not to single out Islam as the only offender. “I am a Christian and I know that in Christianity the position of women has to be struggled for.”

Clearly the struggle is not over for Adrienne, but it is getting tougher to do her work. Her illness has meant she has fewer “productive hours” than before. As for results? She is not sure that you can ever measure in concrete terms what she is trying to do — because she says her mission is trying to change the way people think. (on 1000peacewomen).

Sorry, no other mention in english of our peacewomen, but many (older) articles in Netherlandse, as: HET TE BEREIKEN DOEL BEVAT DE ELEMENTEN VAN HET MIDDEL; GEWELDLOOS ACTIEF; Adrienne van Melle-Hermans, vrouwenvoorvrede, nl; VREDESKOERIER’t KAN ANDERS KERNWAPENS WEG! 24 pages; Verklaring organisatoren demonstratie Stop de NAVO-oorlog; de Volkskrant archief; Nieuwsbrief 35; Sprekers PvdA en SP bij demonstratie tegen Balkan-oorlog.

link: Female Power Art (about 1000 vredesvrouwen – en Netherlandse).

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