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5,000 suggestions for woman's name for Leopold II tunnel

19:24 07/09/2020

Belgium’s longest road tunnel, Leopold II, connecting Place Rogier to Koekelberg Basilica, which reopened on Monday, will be given a female name. “This will symbolically reinforce the place of women in public spaces,” Brussels Mobility announced.

Currently only 6.1% of Brussels streets have female names, Edith Cavell in Uccle for example – and Brussels wants this to change. “We are convinced that a more egalitarian region will be helped by a feminisation of public spaces,” said Nawal Ben Hamou, Brussels secretary of state for equal opportunities. She launched the initiative with Brussels mobility minister Elke Van den Brandt.

Brussels citizens can send in their suggestions until 30 September via www.leopold2tunnel.be or a free telephone number 0800 94001 (8.00 to 18.00, Monday to Friday).

A committee of experts including women’s rights organisations, associations specialising in the decolonisation of public spaces, for example ‘Hand in Hand against Racism’ and two academics will consider the choices. Brussels people will be able to vote on their final selection in November.

The call to find names has been an instant success. Some 5,000 suggestions were received already on 6 September, Brussels Mobility’s Inge Paeman said: “Many people propose names of queens: Queen Astrid, Fabiola or Elizabeth for example. We also have a lot of names from the cultural world, often people who have recently passed away, like Chantal Akerman or Annie Cordy,”

Female names from the former colony of Congo have also been suggested, she added. This is significant given the increased criticism recently of Leopold II’s role in the region.

While the tunnel is now back in business, it will remain closed at night (22.00 to 6.00, Sunday to Friday) to allow the completion of essential works, Paeman said. As soon as these are finished – with a date tentatively predicted as mid-2021 – the tunnel will open in its entirety under its new name.

Written by Liz Newmark