If we are not a voice for women – who will be

29 July 2017, Rotterdam, Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, Netherlands was inaugurated with overwhelming support as President of Soroptimist International (SI) for the 2017 – 2019 biennium; the first Dutch President in the organisation’s almost 100-year existence.

Becoming a member of Soroptimist International in 1996, Mariet held several offices at SI Club Zwolle, the Netherlands, beginning her leadership career as President of the Union of the Netherlands, Suriname and the Antilles, a post she held from 2002-2004. In 2007, Mariet was elected President of the Soroptimist International of Europe (SIE), introducing ‘Soroptimists Go for Water’ as her biennium theme. The project succeeded in raising over 2 million euro for water related projects.

Educated in the Netherlands, Mariet studied, worked and lived in Brussels from 1974, moving to the UK in 1985, where she lived until returning home to the Netherlands in 1992. Married to Jan Pieter Verhoef, with three children, Mariet is owner and Director of Bacolet Translations BV, since 1992. During her inauguration in Rotterdam, Mariet was awarded the Royal distinction of Officer in the Order of Orange Nassau, in recognition of her ground breaking voluntary work, her dedication to social issues and social engagement, and her tireless devotion to women’s rights and gender equality worldwide.

If it is true that we have two hands, one to help ourselves and one to help others, then it is clear that Mariet has spent much of her life dedicated to the latter. Employing the deep-rooted belief that women must support other women, Mariet explains: “One of my favourite, if rather controversial quotes, is that “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women”. Women who empower women, women who are willing to lift each other up, inspire me. It was the President of my own Soroptimist club who first encouraged me to step forward into SI leadership, convincing me I was the right person, telling me “you can do this”.

During my time as SIE President I travelled widely, meeting many Soroptimists. The women I met encouraged me to do my best for the empowerment of women, and to support women to become agents of change in the alleviation of poverty. As Soroptimists, we strive for a world where women and girls may achieve their individual and collective potential, and we as Soroptimists, can play an active role in supporting that vision, not only on the ground through the projects that we action, but also within our own organisation. In the Netherlands, I am energised to see the number of young Soroptimists joining the organisation, and it is important that we support and enthuse these young women – after all, they will be the decision makers and the leaders of our organisation in future years”.

SI President Mariet’s dedication to gender equality and water is evident. “Women (gender equality) and water, are two interlinked causes that have run like a thread through my life”, explains Mariet.  “We know why we fight for gender equality, for equal rights for women, but maybe my passion for water is less obvious. Water for me is right at the start – more important than oil, the most expensive commodity. Water is the cornerstone of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and essential to the attainment of the 16 other SDGs”.

Image: SI President, Mariet Verhoef-Cohen joins an expert panel at an event organised by the Permanent Mission of Brazil and co-sponsored by Soroptimist International, Women for Water Partnership and BPW Brazil.

Mariet’s enthusiasm for the topics of women and water resonates in her decision to choose ‘Women, Water and Leadership’  as her Presidential Appeal for the 2017-2019 biennium. Mariet is also President of the Women for Water Partnership, whose mission is to position women as active leaders, experts, partners and agents of change. The President’s Appeal will support at least five projects in five continents, increasing awareness of the vital role of women as equal partners at all levels of the water sector. Through education and empowerment, it will seek to ensure women and girls have the capacity, education and experience to gain careers in water-related professions.

Image: The SI President’s Appeal 2017-2019, ‘Women, Water & Leadership’.

The first project to be supported is ‘Improving access to agricultural information, clean energy and water, to achieve better food security for 500 women farmers in Kenya, Africa’.

Of the coming biennium, Mariet explains: “With the restructuring of the SI board , I have plans for the African Federation and for Communications, which will feature heavily in our goals. Clear and transparent communication is paramount, internally as well as externally, to show the world what a great and wonderful organisation we are. Our strength is in our worldwide membership: 75,000 professional women in 122 countries, each woman with her own expertise, skills, knowledge and experience. Can you imagine how fantastic it would be to truly utilise this expertise on the global platform?”

“Furthermore, SI has outstanding and competent UN representatives at six UN Centres”, Mariet continues, “and with their help, our immense experience and the vast amounts of information we hold, can be shared more widely. We must also now strive to secure an SI UN Asian Pacific representative at the 7th UN Centre – the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok”.

Image: SI President Mariet Verhoef – Cohen with SIE President Renata Trottmann, SI Past President Yvonne Simpson and SI UN Representative Dora Vrdlovec at the 26th Session of the CCPCJ, Vienna, May 2017.

Mariet’s passion and presence has not gone unnoticed on the international scene. In recent years, Mariet has organised High-Level sessions at CSW and appeared as an opening speaker during the Gender Seminar at the Stockholm Water Week. Mariet was a panellist at the WASAG, Water Scarcity Framework together with the FAO, promoting gender equality in the water sector, and last month presented on Literacy and Lifelong learning at UNESCO, Paris.  On 27-28 September, Mariet was key note speaker at the conference Rules of Water, Rules for Life, (Link: http://rulesofwater.milanoglobal.org) Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of Dublin Principles: Recognizing women as agents of change in water resources management.

Mariet Verhoef-Cohen succeeds New Zealand’s Yvonne Simpson as International President, joining a celebrated list of Soroptimist International Presidents, including Anne Garvie, Glasgow, Scotland; Alice Wells, Phoenix, USA; Hanne Jensbo, Aarhus, Denmark; Margaret Lobo, Mosman Park, Western Australia and Jane Zimmerman, George Town, Tasmania, to name just a few. We are sure you will join us in wishing Mariet every success in the becoming biennium.

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