Home Institution

Brown University

Publication Date

Fall 2011

Program Name

Netherlands: International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender


This project is a sociological ethnography of the Women on Waves foundation, founded in 1999 by Dr. Rebecca Gomperts. As an international non-profit organization, they employ a direct action method: sailing to countries where abortion is illegal and providing safe abortion access. Local women board the ship that then travels 12 miles to international waters, where Dutch law applies, and the abortion pill can be administered legally. Using a feminist perspective, I interviewed five of the women at the organization in addition to the ship’s captain in order to understand the ideological beliefs about the reproductive rights that have inspired and motivated the organization’s mission. I examine their personal stories by critically looking at how they speak about their activism and the significance of these memories in their lives. I approach my study of the organization after a comprehensive summary of the history of abortion legalization in the Netherlands, specifically looking at pro-abortion feminist activism in the 1970s. Within the historical and socio-cultural framework of Dutch society, I discuss the history of the Women on Waves foundation and then provide a portrait of each interview. I also analyze the interviews as a collective group through thematic trends. I have come to the conclusion that through creative strategies, daring actions, and fervent passion, their ship will continue to help women everywhere to attain access to safe abortion and accurate reproductive health information.


Family, Life Course, and Society | Health Services Research | Inequality and Stratification | Maternal and Child Health | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Public Health Education and Promotion