Within Europe, Amsterdam has established itself as a leader and pioneer in terms of citizen rights, community inclusion initiatives and social innovations. Recently, with the launch of ‘Women friendly city’ project that follows an Italian initiative, Amsterdam aims at holding another title, that of ‘most female-friendly society’. The goals of the project are high, yet the means are simple. The key is in the details, more specifically 1 inch mosaic tiles.
A close collaboration between the administration and local bottom-up projects gave way to new forms of decision-making processes that shaped Amsterdam as the most tolerant, hospitable European city. To this international image, a new value is added, that promotes the Dutch capital as a ‘women-empowering’ city. Empowering women and providing them with equal access to the daily-urban life is not a new story. A wide array of initiatives have been working from both top-down and bottom-up perspectives on trying to offer women comprehensive means that ensure their role in society. What ‘Woman friendly city’ does differently is providing a material manifestation of the commitment undergone by Amsterdam in raising awareness of women’s role in society.
The movement was originally launched in 2013 in the city of Ravenna, Italy, with the aim of supporting women who lived in socially or economically difficult circumstances. If other projects try to come up with action plans and solutions on different topics, what ‘Women friendly city’ did was to demonstrate the dedication of cities to prioritise, come together in resolving these problems. The ‘Woman friendly city’ movement translated their empowering goals through ‘visual’ means that set in store, or marble for this matter, the need to propagate awareness on creating a female-friendly society. The design it simple, but it holds a powerful message. Small mosaic plaques with different flower designs that read “Ravenna Città Amica Delle Donne” are found in the old Italian city on every corner.
Paid for by citizens, companies and institutions, the small plaques and contributions are making a strong impact not just at city scale, but also internationally with the launch of “Women friendly city’ Amsterdam in December 2016.
Women empowerment initiatives in the Dutch capital raise awareness and incremental change through numerous practices, that vary from administrative terms to pure activism. The ‘Women friendly city’ project in Amsterdam follows the Italian movement by having a the ‘material’ approach of encouraging the role women play in the Dutch society, and innovation still resides in the mosaic tiles. The project in Amsterdam is the result of a partnership between three organisations: Social Sculptures, Mosaic Affairs and Pantar. The partnership is designed to have a strong impact, considering that each organisation seems to complement each other. Pantar is one of the largest job placement companies in Amsterdam, and to have it coupled with Mosaic Affairs as job and skill provider and Social Sculptures as social organiser seems to create a meaningful impact team. The project offers women the chance to improve their skills, be active in the labor market and benefit from the financial, social and political opportunities of living in Amsterdam. Not only that, but it also provides a way for them to connect, interact and build a stronger community.
Two months in the project, the plaques are ready and Amsterdam sets itself on a new path of transformations. With the number of refugees increasing in the city, initiatives such as this one offer awareness not just on pre-existing problems within the local women communities, but also stress the important issue of refugee women integration projects. The initiative is fresh, yet the problems are old. The time will come to see if the city will be able to own up to its plaques.