Let’s introduce: our new Board of Trustees co-chair Marieke van Doorninck

Our Board of Trustees has gained a new member and co-chair! As a seasoned activist, former politician, and former alderperson for the City of Amsterdam, Marieke van Doorninck brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the table. We spoke to her about sex workers’ rights, climate issues, bottom-up organization, and the power of imagination.

Since the early days of her professional life, Marieke has been dedicated to social justice and she can look back on an impressive professional journey. Topics such as labor rights, migrant rights, sustainable urban development, and ecological justice are all within her realm of expertise. Her active involvement in these issues can be traced back to her time in the movement for the rights of sex workers and trafficked persons. From 2000 to 2005, she played a pivotal role in the establishment of the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE, now known as the European Sex Workers Rights Alliance), a network led by sex workers representing over 100 interest groups from Europe and Central Asia. Through ICRSE, she co-organized the first international conference on sex workers’ rights held in Brussels in 2005. This conference resulted, among others, in a manifesto containing demands and recommendations for sex workers’ rights. The experiences she gained during this period were instrumental for her later work and views on social and societal change. “I learned how incredibly important it is to work inclusively and to ensure that those affected are always involved. From sex workers comes the slogan: ‘nothing about us without us.'”

Since then, inclusivity and participation have been constantly recurring themes in her work. Implementing these principles, however, requires a radical change in how and by whom decisions are made, as she has learned. “We are accustomed to devising something from the top and perhaps asking for some opinions through a participation project, but still implementing it in the same way.” Although achieving true inclusivity poses challenges, it ultimately bears fruit. “Inclusive work requires careful attention and genuinely taking your time. It demands much more, but it also yields much more. You create policies that people can genuinely benefit from, because they have designed them themselves.”

For several years, Marieke worked for organizations such as La Strada International, Oxfam Novib, and ASKV/Steunpunt Vluchtelingen, where she advocated for the rights of trafficked persons and undocumented refugees and migrants. In this work, she observed that various forms of exploitation and oppression tend to overlap and intertwine. Discussions often had a narrow focus on human trafficking, even though there were generally broader issues at play. For example, she noticed that individuals rescued from dire situations often quickly became trapped in other systems of exploitation, for example in their employment. Achieving real solutions, therefore, requires a much broader perspective than is often taken, according to Marieke. “To make improvements in people’s lives, systemic change is needed. I also realized that the capitalist system that exploits people also depletes the earth, and that the human rights movement and the ecological movement are essentially one. If we don’t address them jointly, we won’t achieve a better world.”

According to Marieke, this systemic change must be grounded in the same principles of inclusivity and participation that she encountered in the sex workers’ movement. “Let’s finally make sure that the people affected are the ones actually determining what happens,” she argues. She also challenges the notions of scaling up and large-scale one-size-fits-all policies. “I firmly believe in spreading out, the idea good ideas should multiply. That not one idea should become very large, but that there are various solutions that can all be tried out and given space.” Instead of centralized, hierarchical organization, Marieke therefore advocates for collaboration based on networks in which experiences from different contexts and locations are shared. These can then be translated into concrete policies, but always rooted in local circumstances and needs, she explains.

Marieke at the Extinction Rebellion demonstration at the A12 highway in The Hague, 27 May 2023

As the alderperson for Sustainability and Urban Development for the City of Amsterdam, she did her best to apply these insights as well, for example in the WomenMakeTheCity initiative. This initiative brings together women from Amsterdam to discuss topics such as safety, youth opportunities, and mobility. The input of these women is incorporated into the Amsterdam Local Vision 2050. “I wanted to speak with women,” Marieke explains. “Not with female architects or urban planners, but with women who live in the neighborhoods where municipal actions make a difference.” During the first WomenMakeTheCity gathering in June 2019, women from the districts of Nieuw-West (New-West), Zuid-Oost (South-East), and Noord (North) participated. “These are often women who are heard less and perhaps organize their lives in a completely different way than women who pursue enormous professional careers. It was a fantastic meeting where we genuinely discussed the future of the city. It was really about the city’s users and how they experience it.”

This also held true for the mini-citizens’ assembly on climate organized in Amsterdam in 2021, which Marieke also co-organized. The participants were given the opportunity to advise the municipality on measures for achieving the climate goals. “Many of the people who attended had never communicated with the municipality before. And what I found beautiful was that these people became tremendously driven. Even those who didn’t consider climate an important issue, but had received an invitation and thought, ‘well, I should probably attend then.’ Instead of getting angry [with each other], we saw that they thought, ‘I disagree with you, but how do we engage in a conversation?’ That gave me hope.”

Experiences like these have shown Marieke that a world centered around imagination, connection, and collaboration is possible. This imaginative power, she tells us, is essential. “That we can describe the world we believe in to each other, that we can tell each other about it. I strongly believe that we need that imagination and creativity, so as not to believe that the current system is the only [option], but that other systems are possible. And it would be wonderful if we could envision what another economic system, a just economic system, could look like.” She sees opportunities for WECF in this regard and hopes to play a role in this. “It aligns very well with Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics philosophy. To meet the needs of all people within the boundaries and means of the planet. That is also largely what WECF advocates for, and with the power of women.”

What else does she find appealing about WECF? “I strongly believe in what I see at WECF, that lobbying takes place at the UN level. If there’s one thing I’ve done a lot of in my life, it’s gathering grassroots experiences and then translating those into lobbying efforts. Often, this does not really happen, and lobbying is mostly based on policy rather than local experiences. That is why I find WECF very interesting. Because it is not just the support from the grassroots and local groups which drives change, but also being able to really put it on the agenda of international organizations.”

Welcome to WECF and our Board of Trustees, Marieke!