31st Mar 2023


Brussels metro map pays tribute to feminist pioneers

  • Brussels commuting re-imagined. Only a few metro stations are currently named after women, including Sainte Catherine, Louise, the daughter of Belgium's King Leopold II, and Joséphine-Charlotte, the first child of (Photo: Friends of Europe)

A feminist remake of the Brussels metro map pays tribute to the women who have shaped European history, from Simone Veil to Joan of Arc.

Inspired by writer Rebecca Solnit's and geographer Joshua Jelly-Schapiro's City of Women project, European think-tank Friends of Europe redesigned the Brussels map to mark Europe Day.

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"The map is a celebration of a new kind of inclusive leadership, and a means of reinforcing democracy and challenging the inequality of opportunities: if you see it, you can be it," Friends of Europe said.

The Capital of Europe, Women of Europe idea was the brainchild of Friends of Europe trustee and Irish journalist Mary Fitzgerald, who said she wanted to tell a new story about Europe that transcends language and nationality.

"We're using the Brussels metro map as a creative frame to tell a different story about the continent with women at its heart," she said. "We want this project to resonate far beyond the so-called 'Brussels bubble'."

Friends of Europe said the idea was to showcase "real faces and real stories that highlight the exceptional achievement that European women – citizens – have contributed in many different realms" and to make an "emotional connection" with people.

The 69 stations were renamed in honour of women from across politics, science, economics, the arts and sport.

Sixty-nine women honoured

It includes Ermesinde, the 13th century Luxembourgish countess, who took political control after her husband died; Valerie Amos, the first black woman to serve in the UK cabinet; German photojournalist Gerda Taro, who died on the front lines of the Spanish civil war; Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi; Austrian author Bertha von Suttner, the first woman to win a Nobel peace prize; French fashion designer Coco Chanel; and Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was assassinated in 2017.

The names were chosen by members of the European Young Leaders network and The Brussels Binder, a group that aims to get more women on panel discussions. Francesca Cavallo, co-author of the best-selling Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, was also involved in making the final selection.

The initiative was hailed by European Commission vice-president Margrethe Vestager on Twitter.

"We talk about the #FathersOfEurope. But there are #MothersOfEurope too! The women who fought for freedom, for peace, for other women … they too made Europe," she said.

The map name checks women from all 27 EU countries and beyond, including Solitude, the anti-slavery campaigner on the French island of Guadeloupe and Mary Thomas (known to her supporters as Queen Mary), a revolutionary leader in the former Danish colony of St Croix.

Also featured is Margaret Thatcher, the UK's - and Europe's - first female prime minister.

Christine Lagarde, the first female president of the European Central Bank, said she was "honoured to be in such good company" on the map.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, International Monetary Fund chief (and former commissioner) Kristalina Georgieva and outgoing German chancellor Angela Merkel are also mentioned.

The map follows an initiative by Brussels' public transport network, STIB/MIVB, which marked International Women's Day by temporarily renaming 10 metro stations after famous women, including US civil rights leader Rosa Parks and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Current deficit

Only a few metro stations in Brussels are currently named after women, including Sainte Catherine, Louise, the daughter of Belgium's King Leopold II, and Joséphine-Charlotte, the first child of King Leopold III.

There are 14 times more streets named after men than women in Brussels, while in Paris only four out of 302 metro stops are named after women.

Brussels' public transport network has pledged to permanently rename at least 17 bus and tram stations after women over the next three years, while Parisian feminist group Osez le Féminisme (Dare to be Feminist) has succeeded in renaming two metro stops.

Harry Potter actor Emma Watson and author Reni Eddo-Lodge launched a similar idea last year, renaming London's 270 Underground stops after women and non-binary people who have shaped the capital's history.

Rebecca Solnit, who essentially invented the concept of 'mansplaining' with her 2016 book Men Explain Things to Me, said women have been forgotten for too long.

"A horde of dead men with live identities haunt New York City and almost every city in the Western world. Their names are on the streets, buildings, parks, squares, colleges, businesses, and banks, and their figures are on the monuments," she and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro wrote in the New Yorker magazine in 2016.

"Almost every city is full of men's names, names that are markers of who wielded power, who made history, who held fortunes, who was remembered; women are anonymous people who changed fathers' names for husbands' as they married, who lived in private and were comparatively forgotten, with few exceptions."

Author bio

Sarah Collins is a journalist with the Irish Independent in Dublin, and was previously a freelance EU correspondent in Brussels.

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