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Diaspo #103 : Jamila Aanzi, empowering women through diversity and inclusion

Jamila Aanzi is the first Moroccan-Dutch woman to address the United Nations General Assembly on the empowerment of women in the Netherlands. In 2017, the consultant was chosen to be the Dutch women’s representative at the UN.

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Moroccan-Dutch consultant and former Dutch women's representative Jamila Aanzi. / Ph. Aanzi

«A lot can change in one generation» and Jamila Aanzi is a living example of the saying coming true. Born and raised in Amsterdam to a Moroccan «guest worker», who immigrated to the Netherlands for a better life, the Dutch-Moroccan trainer and consultant was able to set an example for women in the Netherlands.

Growing up, Jamila had a different childhood from the one of other Moroccan-Dutch children born in the Netherlands. «I grew up in a fairly white neighborhood and it took me years before I met other Moroccans living in the country», she told Yabiladi.

Raised in a big family, with two brothers and five sisters, Jamila was enrolled into a Dutch school and used to go every weekend to a mosque to learn Arabic. When she was at elementary school, and because she was only surrounded with Dutch classmates, she did not realize that she was «different».

It was at high school that she went through a situation that had a profound and meaningful impact on her and her adult life. «There was that one teacher who asked us to name a profession in our network», she recalled.

«I remember that I struggled trying to name one, as my classmates mentioned all those jobs like doctor and lawyer (…) at the time my father was not working like most other Moroccan guest workers because of the crisis».

Jamila Aanzi

Jamila’s views and future dreams changed at that moment, after she realized that she had to establish a network for her brothers and sisters, so they don’t go through a similar situation.

A trade unionist who wants to empower women

And so it went for the young woman, who opted after high school for a business & economics curriculum at the university. She majored in banking and insurance and obtained a master’s degree in strategic communication and organizational science. «My dream was to trade stocks in Wall Street, to mainly become a stockbroker or work as a management consultant for a big organization», Jamila explained.

However, her career took a different turn after an email she received one day. «Someone from an organization I was volunteering for sent me a vacancy at a Dutch trade union», she said. The position in question was at the FNV Jong, the Youth Department of the Confederation of Dutch Trade Unions.

Although the job was nothing like what she had dreamed of, Jamila applied for it and ended up becoming the vice president of the organization. «I was scared at the beginning because I thought that no one would hire me if I worked at a trade union (…) but when I did some research I found that the Netherlands had a special model for trade unions that brings the government, trade unions and employers together», she indicated.

And as she expected, the trade union experience was one of added value to her career. For three years, she managed to gain expertise in the social field. After her job at the FNV Jong, Jamila worked as an independent consultant and was an active member of the Dutch Labor Party, before thinking of a life-changing experience.

A lot can change in one generation

In 2017, and after rubbing shoulders with politicians and trade unionists, Jamila decided to apply to become the Dutch women’s representative at the UN. «The UN theme for that year was about women’s economic empowerment in a changing labor world, and because I had experience with the trade union and the labor market, I decided to use my expertise for that», Jamila told Yabiladi.

«It was a unique position because the Netherlands is the only country in the world that appoints an independent women’s representative», the consultant explained. After applying, Jamila was nominated by the Dutch Women’s Council, an umbrella organization uniting women's groups across the country, before she was appointed by the Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister. Her position was very privileged, as she was the first Dutch woman of Moroccan origin to ever get this nomination.

Once confirmed as the Netherlands’ women’s representative, Jamila had to work on her address to the UN General Assembly. A speech that she had to accomplish based on remarks and conversations she made in the country with women representatives, men, politicians, corporate and government officials.

«I wanted to be an inclusive voice, to speak on behalf of Dutch women (…) We are the most diverse country in the world and I wanted to represent all women regardless of their backgrounds and ethnicity».

Jamila Aanzi

Indeed, in her UN speech, Jamila spoke to women, men, governments and politicians with the aim of emancipating and empowering women, but without forgetting her own personal experience and journey. «I started my speech with my own personal story and how my grandfather sent my father to the Netherlands to seek a better life», she proudly declared.

She also referred to her position and how her «father’s dream for a better life helped his children achieve better education and work opportunities in the Netherlands». «I wanted to showcase the power of education and opportunities which can make you move forward», Jamila indicated.

Her speech was indeed inspirational for young women out there, who thought that reaching a similar position was not an option. Jamila explains that after her one-year term as Dutch women’s representative at the UN ended, the number of women applying for the position grew by 100%, and that a significant amount of the applicants was from diverse backgrounds.

Many were the messages she received on social media from young girls congratulating her for the work she has done and telling her that they would like to follow into her footsteps. «I like it that others who had never thought of doing this are now applying», she happily said.

After her UN experience, Jamila is now working on a similar theme that targets women in Eastern Europe and the MENA region. She is now a freelance consultant and a trainer who works on «empowering women» through values of «diversity and inclusion». She also chairs trainings and workshops on leadership and empowerment.

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