Only 5% of Lisbon streets are named after women, study finds

Only 5% of Lisbon streets are named after women, study finds

The streets of Lisbon are not just places for passing through, but also for homage. Traveling through the region means going through the history of the city, Portugal and even the planet. But, as is already known, history has not always preserved the memory of everyone: or rather, of all.

Data scientist Manuel Banza gathered the streets of Lisbon using data from the City Council and concluded that, out of practically 5,000 addresses, only 5% are female toponyms, contrasting with the male —44%.

The same was done for gardens (7% are female toponyms, 36% male), schools (14% female, 43% male) and hospitals (11% female, 54% male).

Manuel Banza’s goal is that “there is a voluntary action to rebalance, giving more names to streets after women, and perhaps this is the first step to help increase the recognition of the role played by women in our history and in our cities”.

“Looking at the numbers is always fundamental”, says Patrícia Santos Pedrosa, an architect and researcher at the Interdisciplinary Center for Gender Studies at the University of Lisbon. “We now have facts, and the facts are clear.” In other words, there is no equality.

The parishes of São Vicente, Carnide and Campo de Ourique are the ones with the most women’s names in percentage of the total. There really isn’t an explanation for this.

The results of this study are in line with another study, carried out in the city of Porto by João Bernardo Narciso and Cláudio Lemos: there, too, 44% of the streets have male toponyms. In 2018, the newspaper Público carried out this analysis for the entire country and concluded that only 15% of the streets had women’s names. To understand what is happening here, you have to go through the history of the cities.

In Lisbon, toponymy was formalized at the time of the Marquês de Pombal – until then, the streets were simply known by the names that the people gave them. Nothing formal. However, from the 19th century, illustrious figures began to be honored.

Women? “Only queens, saints, occasionally some anonymous characters linked to certain professions”, says Patrícia Santos Pedrosa. Manuel Banza confirms: “Many of the names are of saints or queens, more than in men in percentage of each gender”.

This is the case of the largest street with a female name, Rua Maria Pia, the first ring road in Lisbon, which honors Queen Maria Pia of Savoy, wife of King Luis 1st, known for her charitable works.

Among the anonymous, there is the case of figures such as Ferrugenta, from alley of Ferrugenta. Who was? Leonor Maria, a local resident and royal baker, who was widowed by a man with the nickname Ferrugento. A woman known by her husband’s name.

Or the Triste-Feia, which Appio Sottomayor described in a communication in the Jornadas de Toponymia de Lisboa: “The woman who went to Triste Feia does not know the exact name nor, strictly speaking, the time in which she lived. What is known for sure is that it was the people who immortalized its characteristics. Tradition says that three sisters lived there, two of them being normal girls and with the vigor typical of green years; the third, however, had features so not pleasing to the eye that the boys who they passed by in search of people they talked to, they ran away commenting: ‘what a snout of a sow!’, ‘what a terrible creature!'”.

And he continues: “Of course, the sisters got married and she was left alone. But, according to the chronicles, sympathy had nothing to do with physical attributes. That way, many people overcame reluctance towards such an ugly being and managed to engage in conversation and until they almost became friends. But the poor woman’s life was almost always spent sitting at her door, in a sick melancholy. What is certain is that she died — and no one has forgotten her”.

Only after the Republic did this scenario begin to change. In the Estado Novo, 55 women paid homage to themselves, when new toponymic plaques were erected: among them are Marie Curie, Florbela Espanca and Maria Amália Vaz de Carvalho.

But there is a change after April 25, 1974, the date of the Carnation Revolution. “[Isso se deu] with streets like Natália Correia, Catarina Eufémia or architect Maria José Estanco. It is obvious that other profiles are beginning to be valued”, says Santos Pedrosa. “There is a paradigm shift.”

As the study by Manuel Banza shows, the evolution over the years of female toponymy in Lisbon has not been significant – a concern that was already expressed by the Bloco de Esquerda party in a meeting of the Chamber this year.

It’s just that giving female toponyms, in a city dominated by streets of men, is not just a tribute or way of making your contribution known: it also works as “a model for the younger ones”, explains Santos Pedrosa. “It broadens what the map of female role models could be, it helps us to imagine things other than what gender stereotypes configure.”

And that is precisely why the architect considers it important that the Municipal Assembly, the Chamber and the Toponymy Commission of Lisbon undertake, from now on, to assign only female toponyms. “To ensure that there is microcompensation for centuries and centuries of forgetting.”

Manuel Banza even says in relation to the work carried out: “This can inspire other women. In the fight for their rights and to achieve success in their careers and personal lives. Passing on the testimony for the next generations”.

For Banza, the objective of this analysis was to quantify inequality and try to initiate the debate that is the most productive, that of thinking about the names of women who played an important role in the city or in the country and who still do not exist on the streets of Lisbon. .

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