Speech by the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Liesje Schreinemacher, at the Winq diversity awards, 10 May 2023

Good evening everyone.

It’s my honour to present this year’s Hivos International Activist Award.

Most of tonight’s programme has been in Dutch – but since the winner of this award, the wonderful Gracie Brendah Nanyunja is from Uganda, I say a few words in English.

Like we just saw in the short video Gracie is someone who doesn’t give up. She is a true force of nature, what a powerhouse.

She’s been in a wheelchair since she was five years old, but she has never let this get in her way, and has always kept belief in her ability to create change.

So she went to university, when she discovered difficulties for differently-abled people, she started a foundation to help improve the job-market for them.

And when other people saw her identity as a problem, she began another foundation to help in that area too.

A safe place for all queer women. Where they can truly be themselves.

Today, in Uganda – like in a growing number of places around the world – such safe spaces are more important than ever.


When I visited Uganda last year I met with young activists like Gracie. They were fantastic people, who worked so hard to create space for LGBTIQ+ people – only to be called ‘noise-makers’ by the government and threatened.

Even worse: last week the Ugandan Parliament passed the latest version of one of the most strict anti-LGBTIQ+ laws in the world. That Gracie also described in the video.

And even though same-sex relations were already illegal, if this new bill is signed into law by the President, it would make homosexuality punishable with long prison sentences – or in some cases even the death penalty.

Just let me say that again: being who you are, and loving who you love, is considered a serious crime.

But being who you are should never be a crime.

It’s a fundamental human right.

A right that everyone, everywhere, should able to enjoy.

But in far too many places around the world, this is simply not possible.

In Asia, Africa, Europe, and both of the America’s. As a minister I’ve seen the same thing in far too many places.

The rollback of rights.

Growing discrimination against the LGBTIQ+ community.

Even criminalization and violence.

In far too many places, we’re having to refight battles that we hoped and assumed were already won.

Even in so-called liberal countries, we see a growing and alarming amount of backsliding. Like Raven also mentioned is happening even here in the Netherlands.

I fought against these developments during my time in the European Parliament, and I’m fighting against them now as minister.

But I would be nowhere without brave human rights defenders like Gracie – Gracie, we need you now more than ever.

The Netherlands is an ally to women, LGBTIQ+ people and human rights defenders around the world.

And we’re putting our money where our mouth is.

I am proud that we are the largest funder of LGBTIQ+ projects worldwide. And that we have one of the world’s largest funds to support gender equality, sexual health and reproductive rights, and the rights of women and girls.

Our SDG-5 fund allocates hundreds million euros towards these goals.

We do this because we believe these rights are universal.

And because we believe in people like Gracie – and what she fights for.

The freedom to be who you are.

To love who you love.

And to not let anybody tell you otherwise.

So it’s with great pleasure, that I’d like to welcome Gracie Brendah Nanyunja to the stage!