Brussels’ Leopold-II tunnel will be renamed after a woman
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    Brussels’ Leopold-II tunnel will be renamed after a woman

    The tunnel as it will look after renovations © Brussels Mobility

    The Leopold-II tunnel from central Brussels to the Basilique of Koekelberg will, once it re-opens after renovation work, be renamed after a woman.

    The tunnel is the longest in the country, and carries some 80,000 cars a day, many of them driven by commuters from Flanders into the city.

    But the name of Leopold II now carries the stigma of the atrocities committed in Congo while it was the personal property of Belgium’s second king.

    The latest plan from Brussels mobility minister Elke Van den Brandt (Groen) would remove the name of Leopold and replace it with the name of an illustrious woman associated with the capital.

    Van den Brandt sees it as a perfect opportunity.

    Nobody lives in the tunnel, so nobody has to change their address,” she explained to De Standaard.

    At the same time, thanks to all the traffic jams, it’s a very visible name. Now is a moment to think, which women have had an impact on Brussels?”

    It was recently reported that barely 6% of all streets in Brussels are named after a woman, perhaps most notably Avenue Louise, named after Leopold’s oldest daughter.

    Of the roughly 5,000 streets in the Brussels region, there are 2,005 with the name of a man,” said Brussels secretary of state for equal opportunities Nawal Ben Hamou.

    And those with a woman’s name? 138,” she said. “That has to change. The existence of women’s street names make women feel proud, and can inspire women to become active themselves.”

    A map made by the collective Equal Street Names shows the imbalance. The streets named after a man appear in yellow, while the streets named after a woman are barely visible in red. The feminist group Noms Peut-Etre collaborated in compiling the map.

    “With the colour-coding, the problem becomes very visual, and very clear,” said Camille Wernaers, a member of the group speaking to the RTBF.

    It’s as if they were saying that when certain neighbourhoods were being created, women were not there. We can see how women disappear from the collective memory, although they have always been there.”

    The person to be honoured by the re-naming of the tunnel has yet to be decided, but the equal opportunities department will discuss the matter, as will the two collectives. The latter plan to hold a meeting open to all to come up with a short list to present to the mobility minister, to be held in the Maison des Femmes in Schaerbeek on 23 March.

    Alan Hope
    The Brussels Times