A universal sigh of relief was breathed by the participants of the fourth T&T Olympic Committee's Advancing Women in Leadership Forum on Saturday morning, knowing that someone out there, have their backs.

This year's theme "Embracing Change and Transformation during a Pandemic" was thoroughly dealt with by the knowledgeable panellists and speakers at the virtual webinar via Zoom, leaving viewers highly motivated to face the 'new normal' that COVID-19 pandemic has presented.

Bursting with an enthusiasm to share on their own experiences in sport, each speaker ranging from administrators to active athletes to a consultant and a medical expert gave a bit on their background but used the opportunity to encourage all women to keep striving even more during this period of the coronavirus.

After quoting the figure from the World Economic Forum on gender equality which stated that it will take 217 years to reach parity, Nicole Hoevertsz, the secretary-general Aruba National Olympic Committee (NOC) and an Executive Member Pan Am Sports International Olympic Committee (IOC) member, said: "I am worried and frustrated by this figure. It is too long."

The former synchronised swimmer from Aruba was one of the three speakers in the second of two panels in the event. She opened by paying homage to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1993 until her death last week (September 18).

An advocate for gender equality and women's rights, winning many arguments before the Supreme Court, Ginsburg was an inspiration to Hoevertsz who has had several firsts including the first woman on the executive committee of the Pan American Sports Organisation.

"It is great to be the first in but I have to make sure I am not the last. So it's about sending down the elevator and create more opportunities for women," said Hoevertsz, is loyal to the Olympic Movement.

"The IOC (International Olympic Committee) has been pushing for National Federations to have women in leadership positions. On the athletes' level, it is almost 50-50 but not in the decision-making positions."

Hoevertsz encouraged women to do personal training, mentoring, online courses so when the opportunity arises, a prospective can say: "Yes, I am ready to take up a position in leadership."

Fostering this growth, Hoevertsz highlighted the T&T Olympic Committee (TTOC) and Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees (CANOC) president Brian Lewis, who gave the welcome address, and Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe.

"Brian is a dynamic leader. We are happy we have a president like him," said Hoevertsz, adding that this is the reason why he is referred to as "He for She." A nickname which amused moderators Giselle Laronde-West, TTOC executive member, and Nadine Khan-Seemongal, assistant secretary-general, as it was the first time hearing of it but both visually agreed with the reference.

Hoevertsz also gushed about Cudjoe, saying that T&T has a dynamic Minister of Sport who believes in the "power of sports".

Cudjoe gave the opening address and there was one part that stood out for all: "Women belong". To which feature speaker Dr Safeeya Mohammed, chief executive officer (CEO) of SISU Global Wellness, expanded in her keynote address saying: "Women belong in sport, leadership, business... everything." She went on to elaborate on managing stress and being resilient during this time of COVID-19 and then followed by panel one speakers of Melissa Pascal, CEO Pascal's Baking Limited, Priyanka Dhanie, National Archer athlete and Stacy Ann King, West Indies women's cricketer.

In closing, Hoevertsz shared her mantra saying: "She believes, she could and she did."

She is living proof of this simple expression. So too, is fellow panellist Jimena Saldana, vice president Mexican Olympic Committee and vice president Central American and Caribbean Sports Organisation (CACSO), member of the executive council Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC).

She advised the viewers to learn to never to take things personally and push away politics from their real goals.

"Believe in your inner voice, your instincts," said Saldana, who also recognised the work of Ginsburg, citing her contribution led to "real change" and like Hoevertsz was in high praise of Lewis. She believes men have a huge role to play in achieving gender equality.

"The sports world is controlled by men but there are those who believe in women and have opened up opportunities for women. Men have the power to open up opportunities for women and as Nicole said it's about 'sending down the elevator' and understand the importance of opening doors for women."

A move greatly supported by Laurel Lezama-Lee Sing, the final vibrant speaker in the second panel. The consultant, population and development with a specific focus on women, supported all that her fellow panellists had said and zoned in on helping the younger generation.

"I challenge women to help young women," said Lee-Sing adding that one should take advantage of the opportunities they have in their life. "Bloom where you are planted."

As did, national archer Dhanie who dared to launch her business at the start of the pandemic. Her business is about health and wellness critically important during this time.

"Part of embracing change is sharing with others, sharing knowledge," said Dhanie, who is helping others manage their mental health as highlighted by Dr Mohammed in her feature address.

Like the others, Dr Mohammed has been inspired by Ginsburg and advised all to tap into their superpower, which she hopes is resilience, not fear but most importantly, prioritise their "well-being and wellness" during this COVID-19 period.


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