Mary Kok-Willemsen (38) fights for gender equality, because she believes that it will make the world a better place. She uses football as a tool for her mission. This year she opened the first FootballEquals Academy in Twente. An article in De Twentsche Courant Tubantia.
What is your mission?
“Making the lives for the people around me and in the next generation better.”
That is pretty…?
“Yes, but it would be great if it could happen. I would like to contribute to gender equality. The United Nations wants the planet to be in balance by the year 2030, and that the chances for men and women are equal. I agree with this.”
Why do you feel so strongly about this?
“If you offer people equality in chances, you can help those people realise better things. Here in Twente we say that developing the footballing talent of boys is more important than the development of the girls’ talent. Because the chances for boys to become professional footballer is bigger. This triggers me, because I think that you should develop the talent of every child. That is our responsibility as adults.”
What does football contribute to equality?
“It is the mirror of our society, it can bring people together. It would be great if a world that is known for being a male bastion could be a catalyst for equality. I do not think that it is impossible. Football is so big and there are so many people involved in it, we should use it to fix big problems that we have in our society.
Have you always been an idealist?
“As a kid, I wanted to be Marco van Basten. Not because I wanted a Ferrari, but because I only wanted to be a professional football player. This was not possible. I learned to deal with something which had no perspective. I think that it partially stems from there. When I was 18, I said that I was going to open a football school in Addis Abeba. It has always been inside me. It am also concerned about so many children that do not get the chance only because of their background of their place of birth. That is why I eventually want to take the FootballEquals across borders, to India, China and Africa. It is about two things: talent development and equality.”
At the FootballEquals Academy, boys and girls train together. Why and how does this help?
“They can learn from each other. Boys are for instance more individualistic a lot of the times. They want to play as a striker and shine. Girls want the best for the team, they want to be accepted. If you can influence each other, it is already progress. We help them to achieve their dream which is to become the best football player. We do this by educating them well. The players train together, whether they are boys or girls.”
Are you a feminist?
“I fight for equality, not for women. Emancipation is not about women, it is about making society benefit from the normality of equality.”
“Because each talent can learn from another.”
What problems do you experience as a woman?
“That it is a normality for men to be in the women’s football world, but that there are no women in the male football world. It is all so well-defined. Lenie Onzia, an international player for Belgium, has the highest coaching certificate, is a graduated movement scientist, but does not even get noticed. She has to work at Albert Heijn to make ends meet.”
She should be a great role model, according to you?
“Yes, if there are no female role models it would discourage a lot of girls to apply for certain positions because they would not know about them. And men are also starting to see that women can be professionals in this male bastion. Eventually women would have to do it themselves of course. If you think that something should chance, then you need to do something about it.”
It is a big battle you are fighting.
“Real changes happen because of individuals that do not want to wait, but take matters into their own hands. I want purity and to use football to achieve beautiful things. This is not a world where only money matters.”
Who inspires you?
“My own husband, because he uses his profession and passion to achieve gender equality. Nelson Mandela, who learned to understand his opponents. He knew their fears and needs and was able to change Apartheid into a democracy.”
What does your ideal world look like?
“One where we are not indifferent, but follow our moral compass. That we understand that everyone has the same basic needs and where we can learn to understand each other. That it is not more and more about money but about a better world for everyone.”