There are hardly any streets named after women. A study of thousands of roads, avenues, paths or alleys shows that for each one dedicated to female characters, there are ten for male characters. In addition, the streets that commemorate women tend to be concentrated in the peripheral neighborhoods, far from the city centers. This gender bias is also reproduced in large cities such as Paris, London or New York. For the authors, naming the streets is not innocent and perpetuates the invisibility of half the population.
Using data from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), which includes street names in the electoral roll, researchers from two universities in Seville have analyzed gender bias in the street map. In Spain there are about 830,000 streets (with their various names). More than half of them are commemorative: mostly dedicated to people, but also to historical dates or events, such as Calle Dos de Mayo or Plaza de La Constitución. Using an algorithm, they selected from the sample those that referred to the names of more or less historical characters and differentiated between those that were dedicated to men and women. They had to leave out some that were confusing, such as those with terms such as Andrea (whose gender is difficult to determine without further context) or Israel (which can refer to both a name and the country).
More than half of the 830,000 streets in Spain are dedicated to historical people or events
The results of the research, about to be published in a scientific journal, show that only 12.1% of the streets in honor of someone had a woman’s name in 2020. The percentage improves somewhat on the 9.61 of female roads that there were in 2001. At the provincial level, the percentages range between 10.1% in Teruel and 29.3% in Córdoba. By cities, the study authors stopped at those with more than 100,000 inhabitants. In the four most populated, the most egalitarian is Madrid, with 17.2%. The one with the least is Valencia and in between are Seville and Barcelona (see graphs). The percentage of all Spain rises by one point if the routes dedicated to saints are added and four points if all those named in honor of a virgin are included. But the authors left out all religious denominations.
The researcher at the University of Seville Dolores Gutierrez Mora, co-author of the study, explains the exclusion: “We do not take into account the religious streets because they do not reflect the modern vision of the role of women in society.” In addition, many of them allude to the different invocations of the Virgin, which refer to Mary herself. This could distort the results.
Regarding the proportion of streets in women, Gutiérrez Mora considers that “an increase of 2.5 points in the proportion of streets in women in the last 20 years does not imply a significant advance in terms of equality, however, say that it is expected ”. The scant improvement is due, he says, “to the small percentage of new and renamed streets with respect to the total number of streets that make up the street map of our cities, since, in general, municipalities tend to keep the names of streets consolidated by the use”. But it is this inertia that worries her most: “The low proportion of streets dedicated to women precisely between the new and renowned streets.” Between 2001 and 2020, the period they have studied, less than a quarter (18.4%) of the new roads and those whose name has been changed paid homage to a woman, “which indicates that the in the bias ”, concludes the researcher.
There are other results that reinforce the gender inequality detected. By focusing their gaze on the 100 most common male and female names, they saw that the routes with a female appellation are concentrated in a small number. Thus, the most commemorated in the street is Clara Campoamor, which alone gives its name to 2.3% of all the roads dedicated to female characters. The most named man is Miguel de Cervantes, with 1% of the cases. If the focus is broadened, the bias remains: the 10 most used female names account for 12.8% of the streets of the same gender, double that of the male nomenclature. This indicates, according to the study, that local authorities use a small number of female names.
The researchers wanted to go beyond the amount of data handled (more than 15 million streets in the entire period) and tried to measure whether the roads in honor of women were important. Taking advantage of the fact that the National Geographic Institute has a database with the length and coordinates of each street, they studied whether the streets of one and the other were more or less long. Although they found that males tended to be a few meters taller, they have not considered it statistically significant. What they have verified is that women have a secondary geographical location: they are more concentrated in the outskirts than in the center of cities (see graphs). And both phenomena can be related.
This bias on the street is not unique to Spain. It is repeated in four great cities that were beacons of the West: Vienna, Paris, London and New York
For Daniel Oto Peralías, from Pablo de Olavide University and co-author of the study, that there is no difference in length “may be due to the fact that the streets of women, being more frequently in peripheral areas, correspond to medium-length roads, while in the masculine ones, short downtown streets are mixed with longer avenues ”. The remoteness of the women’s roads from the center could have to do with the fact that, as many are new, they are concentrated almost by obligation in the expansion areas of the cities.
This bias on the street is not unique to Spain. A study published this week in the scientific journal PLoS ONE He has investigated it with 5,000 streets in four cities that were beacons of the West at the time: Vienna, Paris, London and New York. This work uses these avenues that commemorate people as indicators of various areas, from gender bias to the relevance of different occupations, passing through the recognition of foreigners.
The first fact to highlight is that Paris is the city with the greatest inequality in its street map of the four. Only 4% of the roads with names are dedicated to a woman. This places the large Spanish cities ahead of the French capital, but far from the other three. In New York, a quarter of its streets that recognize people are for women, although it is important to note that many cities and towns in the United States put numbers or vernacular terms (main street, for example) to their streets instead of names. The percentage rises to 40% in London and in Vienna, more than half of the streets are named after a better one. In the Austrian capital you can see the effort made in recent decades to correct the historical bias in its street map, as reflected this BBC article.
For Marios Constantinides, a researcher at Nokia Bell Labs in Cambridge (United Kingdom) and co-author of the study of the four cities, the case of Paris is very striking for “having been the center of movements and debates for gender equality”, he writes in a mail. In 2015, for example, the Osez collective le féminisme! (Dare Feminism !, in Spanish) led a campaign to rename the streets of Paris with women’s names, an initiative that was supported at the time by the mayor of the city, Anne Hidalgo. “Analysis like ours would allow us to check if these policies and movements have any impact,” he concludes. Constantinides have posted on the internet the Streetonomics project, with data and visualizations of the four cities.
That impact is something that Oto Peralías also highlights. The UPO scientist is a pioneer in the use of street names to investigate the cultural values and socioeconomic situation of cities. Already in 2017 he studied the preponderance of religious terms in the Spanish street map, with almost a third of all streets with some religious reference. His work then illustrated that where there were more streets of saints and virgins, society tended to be more religious. The same thing could be happening with gender bias. As he says, “the names of the streets are messages of ideological content that are integrated into the daily lives of people.”