Top Belgian sportswomen participated on Thursday in a panel discussion organized on the occasion of International Women’s Day. At the invitation of Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, Ingrid Berghmans, Kimberley Buys, Michèle George, Vanina Ickx and Aisling D’Hooghe shared their experiences in gender equality in their respective disciplines.
“My father never differentiated between boys and girls; he never said I couldn’t try,” recalled race car driver Vanina Ickx, daughter of racing champion Jacky Ickx. “It’s a macho world,” the former champion said. “Men look kindly at women who practice a sport, but when they come into theirs, it’s another story! The worst thing for them would be for a woman to pass them.”
For her part, former Olympic champion in judo, Ingrid Berghmans, recalled: “I had to work hard”. The pioneer in competitive judo feels, however, that training with men helped her career. The situation is easier for female judokas in Belgium than elsewhere, but “we must support one another and hope for respect,” added Berghmans, who won silver at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Speaking on behalf of the national women’s hockey team, the Red Panthers, Aisling D’Hooge said “the Belgian Hockey Federation is doing everything for the women to receive the same type of recognition as the men […] because we play the same sport, make the same sacrifices and do the same training”. The only drawback was the media, the Red Panthers goalkeeper said. “We are not really recognized by television,” she said. “The media coverage is not the same.”
Jean-Michel Saive, the sole male member of the panel of invited sportspersons, noted that he had observed some progress in gender equality in sport in the past few years. “However, it’s not always the case at the European Olympic Committee, for example,” he said. “Progress still needs to be made.”