Zonta Clubs in Belgium's nominees for Marie Popelin Award wins

The Zonta Clubs in Area 5 and 6 of District 27, Belgium, nominated Professor Ines Keygnaert to the Women's Council for the Marie Popelin Award. The judging panel, composed of journalists, selected Ines as a laureate almost unanimously. The Marie Popelin Award is a prize recognizing those who contributed significantly to womens' rights in Belgium. 


The award was named in honor of Marie Popelin, the first Belgian female lawyer and an early feminist political campaigner. Mary collaborated with Isabelle Gatti de Gamond to develop the first secondary school for Belgian girls. After graduating summa cum laude from the Free University of Brussels in 1888, her application to the bar was rejected. The judge argued that women's nature and social role made it impossible for Mary to practice her profession. 


Mary's rejection to enter the bar caused an enormous impact on the feminist movement in Belgium, and she dedicated her entire life as a stagnant propeller of women's rights. 


Ines is a Sexual and Reproductive Health professor at the International Center for Reproductive Health at the Faculty of Medicines and Health Sciences of Ghent University. She leads the Gender & Violence Team and coordinates the research line on sexual violence, violation of sexual and reproductive health rights, and gender and sexual health promotion in hard-to-reach, vulnerable or minimized groups.


Ines's work contributed significantly to the scientific research on sexual violence and the care of victims, and how she managed to translate those insights into concrete care models and policy measures deserve great praise. Due to her research, the care and assistance of victims of sexual violence dramatically changed in Belgium. Instead of a purely forensic approach such as the body seen as a crime scene, there has been a shift to a holistic approach, which is highly patient-centered and involves sufficiently long aftercare. In 2017, a model to create care centers for victims of sexual violence was implemented, and many care centers opened throughout the country. The goal is to have a care center in every judicial district by 2023.


Recent news coverage showed that sexual violence is a major problem that can have an immense impact on the lives of victims. Ines's work has made an enormous difference, and it fully deserves recognition and appreciation. It has made an international impact where European guidelines on which she collaborated are accepted as best practices. She also drew attention to the issue of sexual violence against refugees within organizations like the United Nationals Human Rights Council. These contributions played a great part in the judging panel's decision.


Ines being announced as the laureate is especially touching to the Zonta Clubs because she was awarded the prize on the last day of the Zonta Says NO campaign.

As a part of the award, Ines was given the artwork "Future" by Hazel Van Hove. Hazel is a young artist from Antwerp, and she is passionate about creating artwork depicting women's rights. The painting depicts a hopping girl at the Melsbroek airport after being evacuated from Afghanistan. The picture stands for the Afghan women and girls who fear for their lives every day and hope and resilience.