How do women feel in the public space and what obstacles they meet to reach full social inclusion will be explored by the residents of Plovdiv through the new project of the Bulgarian Fund for Women “Sense of a City: an inclusive, safe and sustainable Plovdiv”, as part of the program of Plovdiv – European Capital of culture 2019. It challenges the understanding of urban development and the public environment as gender neutral and calls for a new, socially sensitive approach towards urban planning. In order to achieve a high quality of life in the city, all people – women and men of different age groups, ethnicity, social status, etc. – must have the right to feel free, safe and comfortable in the public space.
“It is important to understand that the streets and the public transport, for instance, are not a neutral ground and the level of freedom that men and women have in moving throughout the city is different,” is stated by Bulgarian Fund for Women. “Women and girls experience situations of violence in the urban space that are different from those experienced by men. Besides the fear of theft and assault, women experience the fear of rape and kidnapping, which might probably increase in a not lightened subway, and are exposed to a daily form of violence that is expressed through words, noises, phrases that humiliate them.” This type of gender-specific violence affects their right of security, limits their use of public space and prevents them from attaining autonomy, warns the project team. Studies show that women change their routines more often than men. For instance, women tend to stop going out alone after dark while men do not.
The method for analyzing attitudes and experiences is called Exploratory walks and has been developed by the international non-governmental organization Womenability, based in Paris, a partner of the project. Exploratory walks stimulate participants to co-operate in the process of rethinking the city. They will take place in Trakia and Proslav districts on 2nd and 3rd of June 2018 and all willing to participate can take part in them (up to 20 people per group). The process includes two walks in each location – one group of female participants only and one mixed group. The diversity of profiles (based on social status, ethnicity, education, age, special needs) of the participants-volunteers is important for the recruiting process. The choice of women only groups is based on the proven concept that women may feel insecure to speak in front of men and might prefer to remain silent. Additionally, women and girls are experts on their own experiences and know when they feel safe or unsafe – and encouraging them to share thoughts, emotions and experience is an effective method for women empowerment. On the other hand, mixed group with women, men and children will contribute to better mutual understanding of the experiences, which each of these groups is have (individually) in the city.
On May 31 and June 1, 2018 activists, local leaders, gender experts, architects, urban planning experts, local government officials and others will be trained in the method of conducting Exploratory walks in order to promote the better mutual understanding of the experience of women, men and vulnerable groups in public urban spaces, the civil participation as a tool for transformation and solidarity and the common actions as an effective form of pressure and change.
The last and most innovative phase of the project is scheduled for the summer of 2019. Bulgarian and international artists will be invited to transform the urban space by creating site-specific art installations in Trakiya and Proslav, based on the real recommendations and the identified needs from the citizens participated in the exploratory walks. Luchezar Boyadjiev, one of the most prominent contemporary Bulgarian artists, will be in charge of the artist’s selection and will seek bold and provocative solutions that will lead to positive changes in attitudes and behavior of the people.
Making cities and communities safer for women and girls will increase their full social, economic, cultural and political participation. Thus, the necessary conditions for free movements of young children and elderly (because mostly women are responsible for their care) will be ensured and the different needs of all vulnerable groups such as migrants, ethnic societies, people with disabilities, adolescents, elderly people and others will be taken into consideration.
The project has the ambition to offer a model for sustainable development of Plovdiv through a bottom-up approach, in which citizens are empowered to identify problems and offer solutions and to be replicated in both national and international contexts.
Local partners in “Sense of a City: Inclusive, Safe and Sustainable Plovdiv” are Gender Alternatives Foundation working to promote equality, overcoming gender stereotypes and combating domestic violence and human trafficking and Association “Consultancy Bureau Progress 7” aiming at providing opportunities for integration of people from risk groups in the society through psychological, legal and other counseling.
Special thanks to Mariya Donchevska who created the logo and the visual identity of the project!