By Valeria Marchetti
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Italy has very few women's names on its signs for streets and plazas, according to female geographers. In an effort to end this "cultural invisibility," they are pushing for a 50-50 division in male-female signage.
ROME (WOMENSENEWS)--Street names in Italy are still being counted, but one village isn't waiting to add more women to their signs, as an advocacy group here began urging earlier this year.
On March 8, International Women's Day, Olmedo, a village among Sardinia's 377 councils, agreed to name 19 places after important women.
That brings Olmedo, with 19 percent of its signs dedicated to women, almost in line with Norway's Oslo, a global frontrunner in female signage, at 20 percent.
Among the new names on Olmedo's streets will be Nilde Iotti, the first female president of the chamber of Italy's parliament, and Elsa Morante, a writer and poet who died in 1985.
"Other Italian municipalities are seriously considering our proposal, such as the cities of Potenza and Catania," said Marina Convertino, an active member of a Rome-based site that began a gender census in January of the country's street names. The group, with a name that translates as Feminine Toponymy, began collecting names of notable Italian women that city councils use on their street signs.
Feminine Toponymy's volunteers have e-mailed every city council in Italy, said Convertino. In the e-mail they proposed that leaders of local governments commit to dedicating half of their street and place signs to notable women from Italy and around the world.
Feminine Toponymy said they've been able to collaborate with only 290 Italian counsels, or less than 1 percent of the total councils in the country. Puglia is the most collaborative region, with 125 counsels having agreed to count their "pink streets." But several regions--including Tuscany, Liguria, Trentino Alto Adige and Umbria--haven't replied to the proposal.
Italy ranks average in its male-female signage among European countries, where roughly 5 percent of signs carry the names of women.
Toponymy, the study of place names, is a matter of interest to Maria Pia Ercolini, a professor of geography at Rome's Giulio Verne College, who founded the campaign.
"During my research, I realized that women are culturally invisible," Ercolini said in a recent email interview. "For that reason I decided to share information about this kind of gender discrimination and put pressure on every single township in Italy, so that 50 percent of the streets, squares or gardens would be named after women."
Most female streets names in Italy pay homage to saints, the Virgin Mother, religious benefactress and nuns. Only about 2 percent of street and place names are dedicated to Italy's female writers, scientists or national heroines.
Ercolini started the project through a Facebook page, which has attracted over 3,000 people interested in joining as supporters. From there, Convertino converted the group into a dedicated website. The group now claims about 100 volunteers who carry out the campaign and recruit others to collaborate with the initiative.
The group is also branching out. It recently launched "Toponomy on Campus" to count the internal streets of every university, seeking 50 percent representation on campus signs of Italian female scientists, politicians, scholars and writers.
Barbara Belotti, a volunteer in charge of the "pink streets" census in Rome, said 600 streets in that city out of 16,067 bear women's names. Many Roman streets are dedicated to famous cities and places. But when those are excluded, the streets named after humans are disproportionately male: 47 percent compared to less than 4 percent female.
Belotti said that while most of the female-named Roman streets are dedicated to Catholic figures, 10.7 percent pay homage to pagan Roman goddesses such as Venus, Minerva and Artemis.
Francesca Zajczyk, a professor of sociology at Bicocca University in Milan, has joined the push for more female street names in the country's famous fashion capital. Delegates are still evaluating the proposal, but she said she doesn't have high hopes.
"Quite frankly I believe it will be very hard to achieve 50 percent of streets named after women in a short time," she said.
Valeria Marchetti is an Italian journalist based in Rome.
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