‘You carry it with you’: Olympian shares story of fight for women’s equity

Jennifer Heil is a repeat world champion and Olympic champion in freestyle mogul skiing.

She won Canada’s first gold in the 2006 games in Turin, Italy. Four years later, she picked up the country’s first medal of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver: a silver.

Now retired from the sport, Heil said though she received a lot of support throughout her career, she also had feelings of inequity.

“I was recognized as technically one of the best skiers, male or female, but I was always ‘good for a girl, good for a woman,’ and I felt that,” she told CTV News Vancouver. “It’s subtle and small and you carry it with you.”

Heil now works with the non-profit viaSport, as the vice-president of sport development. The organization tackles issues including accessibility, inclusivity and sexual abuse and harassment in sport, in the hopes of changing the culture and experience for the next generation of athletes.

“Girls are half as likely to participate and twice as likely to drop out of sport,” Heil said, adding involvement in athletics offers a “lifetime of benefit,” affecting health, empowerment and confidence.

“We know it’s teaching girls and women really important life skills, but we know a lot of girls still aren’t accessing it, and even worse, don’t have a meaningful place within it.”

Heil is also part of a mobilization movement surrounding the Women Deliver gender equality conference being held in Vancouver from June 3 to 6. The goal of the movement is to ensure meaningful progress and change continues long after the event is over.

It’s a cause the BC Women’s Hospital Foundation is also supporting. The foundation is a sponsor of the conference, and its president and CEO Genesa Greening co-chairs the Women Deliver National Mobilization Committee.

“I think there’s a miconception that universal health care means universal access, and women don’t have equitable access to health care in this country,” Greening said. She said of the reasons for the inequality is that research has been predominantly conducted on men.

“Up until 1998, women in this country were not even included in clinical trials and we still don’t have equitable representation in clinical trials,” Greening told CTV News Vancouver. “If you’re an Indigenous woman, a new immigrant woman, if you’re an older woman, the discrepencies become more significant.”

Greening said as a result, women can end up being dismissed or misdiagnosed.

“As a foundation, we are dedicated to funding as much research in these spaces as we possibly can.”

For Heil, including girls and women in the conversation is key.

“My vision is every British Columbian, every girl or those that identify as female, can have a place in sport,” Heil said.

Over 300 organizations are taking part in the mobilization movement across the country. They’re focussing on three areas: gender-responsive health systems and services, gender-based violence, and economic empowerment and equal opportunity.

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