Women of steel lay down gauntlet


A group of female wheelchair fencers, administrators and medical experts will present wheelchair fencing to the world at the 8th World Conference on Women and Sport in Auckland, New Zealand, from 14-17 November.

Triple Paralympian from the women’s category A, Gemma Collis, world champion Ksenia Ovsyannikova, Dominique Hornus-Dragne MD and former fencer, coach and referee Christina Massiala-Vaka will lead a workshop featuring a poster presentation and podcast at the conference from 14-17 November.

Their aim is to show the benefits and impact of wheelchair fencing on women with disabilities by throwing the spotlight on female athletes and officials who have reached success in the sport.

Collis, who also works as a sports journalist and producer for the BBC, said: “I’m really excited to showcase the incredible stories of some of the amazing women within our sport. As an athlete myself, I know all too well how life-changing getting involved with disability sport can be – and how many doors it can open for you in other areas of life. Through our presentation we hope to demonstrate the transformative impact sport can have on women with disabilities – not just on them as an individual but also on perceptions and attitudes within wider society.”

The World Conference on Women and Sport is organised by the International Working Group on Women and Sport – the world’s largest network dedicated to advancing gender equity and equality in sport, physical education and physical activity. It is fully aligned to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Hornus-Dragne, a former doctor for the French Fencing Federation, said: “Many scientific studies prove that sport is good for health, prevents many illnesses and is therapeutic. Despite this, many women in the world don’t do enough physical activity. This is especially true for women with a disability. Our goal is to help change this.”

“Wheelchair fencing is an ideal sport to do so – it combines fight and elegance, situation analysis and quick decisions. It helps prevent illness and shows women they can do anything and much more, it proves they are able to fully participate in society and be an example of winning. Showcasing female Paralympic and world champions, Paralympians and medal winners is the first step to improving the health of all women with disability.”

Ovsyannikova is a triple world champion in foil and epee in category C events. The classification is for fencers with the most severe impairments.

“Throughout my athletic career I was determined to show the world that women with disabilities can reach the highest heights in sport,” Ovsyannikova who is also a qualified wheelchair fencing referee, said. “I have a daughter and son and it is important to me that they know that whatever life throws at them, they can still be the best examples of themselves. As well as my achievements on the piste I now sit on the Promotion Commission for the sport. Wheelchair fencing has given me so much and I want to show other women they too have the same opportunities. Where they don’t, I want to change that too.”

The group have spent the last few months working on the concept for their presentation: Para Sport as a Means to Change the Lives of Women With Disabilities – Based on the Experience of Wheelchair Fencing. They will now begin to recruit athletes, coaches and referees who are interested in being interviewed for the podcast.

Massiala-Vaka was the first Chair of the Gender Equity Commission for IWAS Wheelchair Fencing and now Chairs the Promotion Commission, as well as sitting on the Executive Committee as the gender equity representative.

“I am honoured and humbled to work with these amazing wheelchair fencers on this very important project.  This will the first time that fencing will be featured in this conference.  I am thrilled to work alongside the crew that IWAS Wheelchair Fencing has to represent our sport in an international conference for Women in Sport.”

Any women from within wheelchair fencing who would like to share their story for the podcast can contact christina.massiala@iwasf.com by 13 April 2022, marking the email ‘Podcast’. As well as the content for the presentation at the conference, shorter podcasts will be produced and made available for anyone to listen as part of a series coming later in 2022

Established in 1994, the International Working Group on Women and Sport advocates and runs programmes globally year-round. It developed and remains guardian of the Brighton plus Helsinki 2014 Declaration, which now has the commitment of nearly 600 signatories worldwide. Every four years it stages the IWG World Conference on Women & Sport. In September 2021, it launched a world first Insight Hub – an interactive collection of research, case studies, toolkits and news contributed from all over the world.