Reworked Brussels metro map celebrates Irish women
Imagine a journey that starts at Simone Veil station and where you reach your destination at Hannah Arendt station. Along the way, you pass Marie Curie station, Rosa Luxemburg station, Paulette Nardal station (one of the founders of the Négritude movement), Helen Sharman station (the first European woman in space) and Aletta Jacobs station ( the Dutchwoman who founded the world’s first birth control clinic in 1880).
Such a journey – metaphorically – is possible with the Capital of Europe project, Women of Europe. Inspired by the American writer Rebecca Solnit and the City of Women project by geographer Joshua Jelly-Schapiro in New York, it is about taking the Brussels metro map as a creative framework to tell a new story of Europe.
In the same way that Solnit reinvented the New York subway map by renaming all of its stations after women who left their mark on the city, this project transforms the Brussels metro map into a celebration of the women who have contributed to shaping Europe from Antiquity to the present day. It includes women from all sectors of politics, science, economics, the arts and sport, with at least one from each member state of the European Union. Many are “firsts” in their fields, such as the first woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize (Bertha von Suttner, born in Prague). Ireland is represented by Constance Markievicz and Mary Robinson.
What impact does it have on our imaginations that so many places in so many cities are named after men and so few women?
Having enjoyed Solnit’s New York project for a long time, at the end of 2019 I suggested to the Brussels-based Friends of Europe think tank, of which I am a trustee, to do something similar with the metro map that people use to navigate the city. “Capital of Europe”. Covid-19 postponed our launch plans for Europe Day – May 9 – last year, but last Sunday the newly redesigned map took to social media.
Margrethe Vestager, European Commission Executive Vice President for Digital Affairs, shared the card on Twitter, writing: “We are talking about #FathersOfEurope. But there is also #MothersOfEurope! The women who fought for freedom, for peace, for other women… they too made Europe. “
The card has since been shared by several of the living women on it: International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, European Central Bank Director Christine Lagarde, Former Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Former Latvian President Vaira Vike -Freiberga.
Rebecca Solnit said the Women’s City project was prompted by the following questions: How does it affect our imaginations that so many places in so many cities are named after men and so few women? What kind of silence occurs in places that so rarely speak of women and women?
It is the same story with European cities including Brussels, the nucleus of the European Union. Its streets, buildings, squares and transport centers are mainly named after men. A handful of metro stations in Brussels are named after women, including Louise who bears the name of the avenue which bears the name of a woman honored because she was the daughter of King Leopold.
The names on the card were chosen as part of a process that began with a call for nominations which included the Friends of Europe Young European Leaders Program and the Brussels Binder, an initiative that aims to improve diversity gender in political debates. One of the people involved in the final selection was Francesca Cavallo, co-author of the bestselling children’s books Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.
Working on the project reminded us that we Europeans don’t tell each other our stories as often as we should. Some of the women from Central and Eastern Europe were new to me. Simone Veil (the Auschwitz survivor who became the first elected President of the European Parliament and, as Minister of Health in her native France, played a key role in legalizing abortion there) is relatively little known outside French-speaking countries. A favorite story is that of Carolina Beatriz Ângelo, who exploited an ambiguous electoral law to become the first woman to vote in Portugal in 1911.
The map (which can be downloaded and printed from the project site, where biographies of each woman can also be found) is envisioned as a work of art, a talking point and an educational tool. A number of teachers have expressed interest in incorporating it into lesson plans.
The Brussels public transport authority is now taking measures to ensure that women are better recognized within its system. It marked International Women’s Day this year by temporarily renaming 10 metro stations in honor of prominent women, and pledged to permanently rename 17 bus and tram stops over the next three years. Last summer, actor Emma Watson and writer Reni Eddo-Lodge announced a plan to reimagine the London hit map, renaming all of its stops after the women and non-binary people who made the city what it is.
The map of the capital of Europe, Women of Europe is free to download here