Rotterdam Pride: Anne-Roos Wasser
By changing agreed language in official documents and international treaties, a group of countries who call themselves the ‘group of friends of the family’ want to erase years of progress in terms of gender equality, equal rights and general acceptance of LGBTI people. Anne-Roos Wasser, who studied Global History at EUR (2016), has the opportunity to counter so called ‘global pushback’. The opportunity lies with joining forces with LGBTI allies like the US and Argentina. “You see a kind of ideological battle going on within UN institutions."
Anne-Roos has been working for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs for almost six years. Her previous placement, in Shanghai, lasted for two years, during which she fostered economic relationships between Dutch and Chinese companies and promoted responsible business conduct: “By organizing company workshops on ‘diversity and inclusion awareness’, for example.”
Her possessions are still in a storage unit somewhere in China; because of COVID, there is a global shortage on storage space on ships. Only a month ago she got back in Amsterdam, where luckily, she can stay in a fully-furnished friends’ apartment. Almost immediately she started working in The Hague as the ‘LGBTI policy advisor’ at the Human Rights and Multilateral Affairs Department. Her job is to promote the Dutch policy on LGBTI inclusion and equal rights in ‘multilateral forums’, which means that multiple countries are involved.
“I want to do some good, and the Human Rights Department strives to really make a difference in countries where the LGBTI community is struggling,” she explains her choice for this job. Anne-Roos knew since November last year that she would be working as a LGBTI-policy advisor. In order to be well-prepared for her role, she talked to people from the LGBTI-community, next to reading books and watching documentaries about LGBTI issues. “I'm not from the community myself, but I wish to be an ally. Many of my friends are from the community. Through these friendships, in China and other countries, I have seen that if you’re part of the rainbow community, it can be really difficult to just be yourself. Sometimes my friends couldn’t even meet in public, because of their own safety. It makes my hair stand on end that they have to be careful not to be arrested for who they are, while I can go to bed every night without having to worry about that.”
"We see the pushback as an effort to reverse the progress that has been made on LGBTI and gender issues for the past decades"
Even though the EUR alumna is still new to the job at the Ministry, there is not much time to hang back and take everything in. With almost 140 Dutch diplomatic missions (embassies and consulates) that promote Dutch policies and interests, her role is to make sure that the Dutch LGBTI policies are in tune with reality. “The Netherlands spends a lot of effort on promoting equal rights for LGBTI persons worldwide. My job will be to monitor a number of major projects that are financed from The Hague, to coordinate our negotiation position on LGBTI issues within UN institutions and multilateral forums, and to keep an eye on LGBTI developments worldwide.”
If necessary, she will discuss new developments with the Human Rights Ambassador to see if action is required. “And I’m also the co-chair of a working group within the ‘Equal Rights Coalition’, an international partnership of 42 countries that work together to promote equal rights for LGBTI people worldwide.” The Netherlands founded this coalition in 2016 together with Uruguay. “It shows how active we are,” Anne-Roos says.
Talking to colleagues from like-minded countries about LGBTI-developments in, for example, China, Poland and Hungary has raised the issue of a global counter-movement that is identified as ‘the pushback’. Anne-Roos: “We see the pushback as an effort to reverse the progress that has been made on LGBTI and gender issues for the past decades. So we work together with countries like Argentina, the US, Canada, the UK, the Scandinavian countries and Germany to make and keep equal rights accessible to LGBTI communities across the world.”
Right now, the Dutch top three priorities are abolishing criminality, combating violence and discrimination and promoting social acceptance.
The ‘pushback’ is related to LGBTI and gender issues, but Anne-Roos thinks it has a broader scope, one which she believes comes from a sense of increased conservatism, which is also tied to anti-globalization and anti-western sentiments: “In my view it is all somewhat related. It is a perceived threat on so-called traditional values by some countries, who call themselves ‘the group of friends of the family’. In those circumstances, the LGBTI community might be an easy and visible scapegoat. Some countries even deny the existence of being LGBTI, saying it does not exist, or that it’s a ‘Western invention’.”
"Countries are trying to remove LGBTI-inclusive language in our communication, negotiations and shared resolutions"
The United Nations forums provide an avenue to talk about these issues, Anne-Roos believes, and thus may promote equal rights for the LGBTI community at large. “A lot has been said about the UN. That it’s not functioning, or that it is old and outdated. But the UN is not simply a thing in itself, it's all individual countries together that have to work through their differences.”
But she concedes that within the UN, every single country will try to push its own agenda to the best of their ability. “So right now, you see there's almost a kind of ideological battle going on within those UN institutions. Countries are trying to remove LGBTI-inclusive language in our communication, negotiations and shared resolutions. So we are planning and strategizing on how we can prevent that from happening. Because language matters. It is not just a paper reality, it’s very decisive for real-world issues and sometimes people underestimate the importance of it.”
Because the Netherlands is a relatively small country, to make progress it is important that Anne-Roos and her colleagues in New York and Geneva keep cooperating with other countries. For example, through the Equal Rights Coalition and through the UN LGBTI Core Group: “We’re constantly joining forces.”
"From the bottom of my heart, I support equal rights for the LGBTQ community. But I also have to be realistic."
Guard the fortress
So what does she hope to achieve in the next few years working at the Ministry? “When you look at the past forty years, I think it’s fair to say that great strides have been made towards equal rights for LGBTI worldwide. But in almost seventy countries, it is still illegal to identify as an LGBTI person. It carries the death penalty in five countries. I hope to reduce those numbers and support the general acceptance. From the bottom of my heart, I support equal rights for the LGBTQ community. But I also have to be realistic. I hope to continue to work well with our coalition in the coming years to counteract the pushback and not lose the progress we made. If we're just ‘guarding the fortress’, so to speak, I will already be quite satisfied.”