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Dutch party must let women run for office: court

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The oldest political party in the Netherlands may not block women from running for office, the country’s highest court ruled Friday, dealing a blow to its strict religious stance ahead of June parliamentary elections.

The Reformed Political Party, known by its Dutch initials SGP, is an orthodox Protestant party that did not admit female members until 2006 and still does not allow women to stand for office under the party’s banner.

The court said that policy was at odds with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to which the Dutch are a party.

“That treaty obliges the state to respond effectively to ensure that women can fully participate in political parties,” the court said in its ruling.

Founded in 1918, the SGP has two members in the 150-seat lower house of parliament. It has a strong presence in the country’s so-called Bible belt, where it participates in a number of municipal and provincial governments.

In March local elections the SGP took city council seats in about 5 percent of the country’s municipalities, and in most of those councils it took the bulk of the seats.

In a statement, the party called the ruling “incomprehensible” in light of previous findings by the same court that it had full rights of religious freedom, expression and association.

The SGP added that the ruling had not affected its activities, and Friday it presented an all-male candidate list for the June 9 national elections.

The court said the government was “obliged to take effective measures” to ensure the SGP allowed women to run for office, though it would not prescribe those measures nor block state subsidies for the party.

Lower courts had previously ruled the SGP could not receive state subsidies because of its policies, although those decisions were ultimately overturned.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, at his weekly press conference, said the government needed to study the ruling further before acting.

The party’s statement of principles argue that according to God’s word, everyone has a specific place in the world:

“In this order the husband is the head of the wife. Every emancipation effort that ignores the God-given place and vocation of men and women is revolutionary and should be vigorously combated.”

About 28 percent of the Netherlands’ 16 million population say they are Catholic and just under 20 percent Protestant, according to government statistics. Nearly 45 percent say they have no religious affiliation.

Additional reporting by Gilbert Kreijger, Editing by Noah Barkin