Woman Friendly City
My sister recently went to Amsterdam with her family. She sent me an adorable picture of her 3 year old sitting on a pretty mosaic sofa in the city centre.
I marvelled at the way photos can be deceptive. In the image, with a bow in her hair, my niece looks almost angelic. Yet anyone who has met a threenager knows that they have more in common with a minor dictator than a cherub.
But more interesting than a terrorising toddler is the message of the bench.
Woman Friendly City
What makes Amsterdam a Woman Friendly City?
It seems at the end of 2016, inspired by the Italian city, Ravenna, Amsterdam embarked on a campaign to produce "a material manifestation of the commitment [to] raising awareness of women’s role in society."
Small mosaic plaques created by women, paid for by citizens, companies and institutions have been placed across the city as a strong visual reminder of the role women have in society.
"The project offers women the chance to improve their skills, be active in the labor market and benefit from the financial, social and political opportunities of living in Amsterdam. Not only that, but it also provides a way for them to connect, interact and build a stronger community."
Interestingly, whilst trying to find out about this project I came across the United Nations Women Friendly Cities Joint Programme (they might need a catchier title...)
This programme was launched in Turkey in 2006, with the aid of the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), after a study discovered that in the Sanliurfa Province, over 16% of women over the age of 16 are illiterate. The programme recognises
"the principle of gender equality as the cornerstone of sustainable development due to its potential to transform the physical and social environment."
Noticing that women, who make up just 14% of the National Assembly, are woefully underrepresented in Parliament and therefore unable to influence decisions which directly affect 50% of the population, the Women Friendly Cities Joint UN Programme was initiated.
The programme seeks to change the infrastructure of urban settings to better accomodate the "social and spacial" needs of women and girls.
In Bursa this meant that all new municipal buildings were legally obliged to include nursery rooms or playgrounds.
The city of Izmir, one of the first to join the scheme, established a Branch Office for Women which now has 30 employees. Its role is to collect information on gender discrimination, provide equality training and organise activities for events such as International Women's Day. The office works on both large and small projects.
One example cited is a park which women and children feared. Following a series of meetings and focus groups, the local community identified this as one of the issues most important to them. Listening to the people who actually lived in the area, the Equality Commission advocated to the Municipal Assembly and eventually had the space transformed into a pleasant communal space, renamed the "Park of the Leader Women".
It may seem like a small thing but when government listens and makes these small, achievable changes it can have a butterfly affect on a community.
I will be really interested to see how this programme develops in the future, and whether is will be adopted by other countries.