Womenability, an international non-governmental organization based in Paris, France has created an innovative tool for empowerment of local communities called exploratory walks. The concept of these walks is elaborated through a methodology following a precise research protocol. Such walks have been carried out in more than 25 cities around the world, and the analysis – “Solutions for Gender Fair Cities” has been recently published.
The exploratory walks will lead all participants to a process of rethinking the city so that all people feel good in it. They urge all stakeholders to establish a better mutual understanding about the experience of women, men and vulnerable groups out in public spaces and to make actions to improve the spaces from the different positions they have in the society: local leaders, civil society, urban experts, public institutions, etc.
Through training and empowerment, toolkits for conducting exploratory walks, best practices guides and documentaries, provided by Womenability, the project will create an exchange platform for citizens, local leaders, gender experts, urban planners, architects, designers, national and international artists, and local authorities. Thus, they will have the opportunity to see the experiences of the residents living in the cities and be sure that the results and guidelines are in a direct relation with the needs and the will of the society. This process is legitimate because experts are adapting and politicians are committing.
The exploratory walks will take place in two neighborhoods of Plovdiv: Trakia and Proslav. Each of these locations has its own specifics, which will allow a curious comparison between the results of the conducted walks in different urban environments, even within the same city.
Trakia is the youngest residential area of Plovdiv, built in the 1960s and 70s of the past century. Its structure carries the spirit and the trademarks of the modern infrastructure. According to official statistical data, among the inhabitants over 60 years of age – women are twice as many as men. Trakia is the third biggest residential area in the country, and in 2008 it was voted best place to live in local media lists. All these characteristics make it a suitable and attractive terrain for research in regard to infrastructure and condition of the public space – the number of elderly women, its modern infrastucture, and the high praise of its functionality.
Proslav is the most western living area of the city, but it is well connected with the public transportation, which makes it easily accessible for visitors. It is appropriate for the objectives of the project due to the fact that its architecture – low-rise single family houses, and infrastructure are opposite to Trakia – mostly built with panel apartment buildings.
The citizens from the two neighborhoods face different challenges of the “city jungle” and have specific needs. These are neighborhoods, which will undergo dynamic reforms and which represent the diversity and the spirit of the city, positioned in the area outside of the city center. The inclusion of such diverse topography will open up an extensive field for comparison on all levels of the project from artists, urbanists, gender experts, NGO activists, volunteers, and especially from the citizens themselves and the public.
The process includes two walks in each of the locations – one in a females-only group and one in a mixed group. The groups are consisted of participants of non-homogenous social status, ethnicity, education, age, as well as individuals with special needs. The choice for female 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. The knowledge and feelings that women and girls already possess will be used as a starting point for making cities and communities more secure. Treating women and girls as key sources of information and encouraging them to express their thoughts, emotions, and experiences is an effective tool of empowerment. On the other hand, the mixed group with women, men and children contributes to a better mutual understanding of the experiences which each of these groups has (individually) in the city. Therefore, exploratory walks provide an incentive for the community to rethink the nature of the connection between gender and urban space.
The exploratory walks will take place on June 2nd and 3rd, 2018. If you want to participate and learn more, please contact the Bulgarian Fund for Women or the local partners – Gender Alternatives Foundation and Consultancy Bureau Progress 7.
Photo Credit: © 2018 Milen Neykov