Beyond the scientist: Elza Zijlstra

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Where and when were you born?

I was born in 1982 in Willemstad – unfortunately not the Willemstad of Curacao, but a little village in Noord Brabant. My parents are both Frisian and we moved to Friesland when I was about 9 months old.

Where do you live and with whom?

I live in de Wolfskuil in Nijmegen which is a very nice neighbourhood. All kinds of cultures, ages and classes live together and make it a lively place. I live with one housemate – we own quite a big house that has been bought in the 70s by some hippies and has been in the hands of young people ever since.

Who was your role model when you were a kid?

My role models were mainly female characters from books that I read. It started with Chantal and Inge who exposed a thief at a fashion show and moved along to the women of Thea Beckman's Children of Mother Earth. Later on, I read many biographies of women that crossed deserts, poles and oceans. When I was a bit older, I became very interested in Che Guevara.

Why aren’t you doing the same thing now as your role model (or do you?)

I didn’t cross the ocean, or exposed a thief at a fashion show (yet – working on that), but my PhD about care for victims of sexual and family violence definitely has a link to my early interest in women's lives. And although I know Che Guevara wasn't a sweet boy in the end, I carry his consciousness about inequality and injustice with me.

What is the thing in your (work or other) history that you are most proud of?

I am proudest of the establishment of the Center for Sexual and Family Violence Nijmegen (www.sfgnijmegen.nl). Toine Lagro had the idea of setting up this center, and I was involved from the beginning as the project-coordinator – a job that I now combine with my PhD. The center runs well and seems to be a very valuable intervention. It’s fantastic that such a center exists, because sexual and family violence are one of the worst things that can happen to a person. Victims deserve the best care possible.

What is it that you would like to achieve in work in the next 5 to 10 years?

Within 5 years, I hope I can help the center grow towards a strong, solid structure within the health care field. I hope that I can contribute to improving care for victims of sexual and family violence further and further via research and education, and I hope that the Center can contribute to the societal discussion about violence. Although I think there is still much to do in the Netherlands, I hope that, in about 10 years, I can use my knowledge and experience in an international setting as well.

For what can we wake you up?

I am hard to wake up, but I might open my eyes when you tell me you bought some great vintage books at a thrift store.

What is your hobby and how good are you at it?

I make art of beach-trash and vintage magazines under the name TrashWorks (www.trashworks.nl). I’ve had a few exhibitions, sell postcards and prints to different stores in the Netherlands, do commissions and I am currently developing workshops. It’s going pretty well!

What is your biggest irritation?

Maybe irritation is a strong word, but I am very much surprised by the victim blaming attitudes I come across in the media, amongst professionals and even friends. When a women tells about her experiences with violence, the reaction is mostly not: ''I'm angry, because someone beat or raped her'' but there are feelings of irritation towards the victim: ''Why didn't she leave him?’’ Or: 'Everybody knows one must not go home with a boy you don't know''. The situation is so much more complex than that!

Who would you like to invite for dinner, if you had the chance? 

Some historical women, like Marie Antoinette and Nefertiti. And my late grandma. How was it to be a woman in their times? To counterbalance the female talk, I would invite some male medieval explorers and ask them how it felt to sail away on the ocean in times that people believed you would fall of the earth. For the music, I would invite Lil’ Kleine. I am very curious how Marie Antoinette would react on him.

 

 

 


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