English retranscription from Charline’s meeting with Radio Notre-Dame

March 11th, Paris

Leo : 10:17 am on Radio Notre-Dame, even though the international women’s rights day was last Tuesday Juliette Loiseau interviewed women change makers during the entire week.

Juliette : And it we will not stop here 😉

Leo : Obviously.

Juliette : Everyday is a woman’s day.

Leo : Of course, and you will end your this week with a beautiful project! Your guest this morning is Womenability co-founder of an NGO which just started a world tour to bring back urban spaces to women so they can feel safe anywhere in their cities.

Juliette : Hello Charline OUARRAKI !

Charline : Hello Juliette, hello Leo !

Juliette : Thanks a lot for being here. Today, we’re ending a cycle of meetings dedicated to women’s rights . You are dealing with a well known problem for women : insecurity feelings, street harassment, public space we prefer avoid. You are the co-founder of the NGO Womenability, and you are trying to answer those problems. So, Womenability, it is an intriguing name, a little bit “barbarian” even. This NGO, what is it? How did it start?

Charline : Womenability, I don’t actually think it sounds barbarian by the way 😉 Our NGO has an English name because it is has international dimension with our worldwide research-action-training project. This is simply why it is named like that. So, how Womenability started? Audrey, Julien, and I, the co-founders of the association, all worked in La Courneuve’s startup incubator. Talking about the neighborhood with Audrey, we realized that we didn’t experience the public space the same way men did and that we had to adapt our behavior, especially regarding to our clothes selection or with our travel modes… Speaking with us, Julien realized that he never – as a man – thought about these women’s specific issues. From there, we did some research, and found some chocking facts : 100% of women already have been attacked or harassed or insulted in public transports in Paris. But more than that, sports infrastructure for example – such as city stadium – are mostly frequented by men than women, by boys than girls. Furthermore, in a symbolic trend, do you know what is the proportion of streets named after a woman in France?

Juliette : 10%?

Charline : 2% against 31% for men. The rest of the streets are named after a historical date or a place. They prefer giving dates and places names than women’s name… So today we are still living in cities that are built by men, for men. It is from this particular finding that Womenability was born.

Juliette : Your observation is that Women adapt their behavior regarding the different areas they are going to. But even more important, women do not use and invest the city as men do.

Charline : Absolutely, researches show that women go from a point A to a point B. They don’t stop in public space, in their city – not even to admire it on a beautiful day like today J So that’s the real issue, the main objective of Womenability : Find solutions for a gender equal city where all women and men can feel at ease in public space.

Juliette : So that women and men live side by side in their city – not apart as we can see in different cities especially for security or mentalities reasons – so they can live together and have access to the same places.

Charline : Absolutely, mixity and diversity is one of our bias. We need to find solutions, which can be implemented by men, women, NGOs, institutions… So gender equality can be everywhere in the city, so women can practice sports, admire art in the city, feel well above feeling safe, in sum: that they can enjoy their cities.

Juliette : You are talking about mixity and diversity, an interesting aspect of your NGO is that men are also included. This is generally not the case in women’s rights NGOs, men usually have a small presence or no word to say. You choose to mobilize men, so that they can be by your side to defend women’s right in the city. Why? Why is this important?

Charline : Indeed, in our action research, men are in the center with women. It is really important because, as I said before, cities are mostly built by men, for men. Therefore, men have an important role to play in changing it. Again, our study is a gender study. We want to ensure they will gain awareness to the many issues women are dealing with. First, their behavior which can, sometimes despite them, put women in uncomfortable positions in the city. For example, three men are standing up against a wall, staring at women up and down. You don’t necessarily feel unsafe, but you won’t stay there.

Juliette : This is not really pleasant.

Charline : Indeed, this is not really enjoyable. The study is also trying to turn men into actors of change. Solutions can be put into practice by men; such as changing their behavior and bringing awareness to their friends. Finally, this study is for them too. I don’t know a father, a brother, a son who wants his daughter, his sister, his mother to feel not safe or who can’t fully enjoy herself where she lives. So this study is also for them. Earlier I asked you how many public places you knew where a dad can change the diaper of his baby. These kinds of facilities are already rare, but if they are present they are generally located in ladies rooms only.

Juliette : So a diversity question. You started the project in order to find solutions, because this is the real objective : not only to denounce but mainly to bring solutions for this lack of women – if we can say – in the city. You started a study, a process which is organized through 25 exploratory walks all around the world. Concretely, how does it is work? Which are the different steps of the project.

Charline : Indeed, the first step is to identify women’s issues, all over the world as you said, in each continent, in 25 cities counting more than 100 000 citizens. For the anecdote, they are also cities which are governed by women.

Juliette : Right, why choose cities governed by women ?

Charline : For the anecdote, it was a joke between us. We choose cities with more than 100 000 inhabitants cause we wanted a certain density for the study. Then we needed another criteria to reduce the number of cities around 30. So we said to each other that it would be funny if all the cities were governed by women, so maybe we can observe a difference of politics, or not. Doing some researches, we realized that there were barely 40 of them.

Juliette : Not so many…

Charline : So from a joke between us, it became a real bias. This is why we chose those cities : Malmö in Sweden, Presov in Slovakia, New Heaven, Houston, Baltimore in the USA, Rosario in Argentina, Wellington in New-Zealand… Next we will go to Japan in Yokohama, Kaifeng in China, Ahmedabad in India. Then an African tour CapeTown, Libreville… before going back to Europe.

Juliette : So 25 cities and 25 exploratory walks in these 25 cities. How does it work? What are you doing there?

Charline : With an exploratory walk, we bring together local inhabitants, users, NGOs from a neighborhood, where we will walk in order to identify issues and find collective solutions with discussion. Generally and historically women exploratory walks were organized only with women, but again, we chose diversity so we can exchange points of views and make women and men work and build together gender equal city of tomorrow. To make the walk successful, we lean on a local NGO. Our partner organize the walk with us. In exchange, we train them about the process of exploratory walks, mobilization, communication, then valorization, so they can continue the action. We don’t want to come one week, organize one exploratory walk and then we leave and there is nothing left. We hope they can pursue the action, so we can move forward together and build together.

Juliette : In each city, with women and men, you will identify issues and solutions in their city. To collect all these data – the world tour will last 9 months…

Charline : Yes, the team actually left last Tuesday… (our way of celebrating the international day of women’s right).

Juliette : Last Tuesday, in fact it was the international women’s right day. Once you collect all these data in the 25 cities, what are you doing with it? What is the objective?

Charline : The idea is to share them with the largest number of people. It is to build some tools, action worksheets, so they can be replicated all over the world. We take a model from somewhere to bring them back with us then re-export them. All of this will take place in an international forum – spring/summer 2017 – supported by Paris City Hall and the UN Women France Committee. We will invite the 25 partners mayors and the 25 partners NGOs, plus some French actors, to build together an international guideline towards a gender equal city, where again all women and men can feel at ease. Political actors will vote for the best practices and work on how to replicate them – who can? in which scale? etc.

Juliette : Alright, this guideline will regroup all the solutions which can improve mixed cities all over the world.

Charline : Absolutely yes. We also hope for a strong politic engagement from those women mayors – Anne Hidalgo first, Paris Mayor – so we can replicate the best practices and maybe later, we can help with the operational application in other cities all over the world.

Juliette : Today your NGO is a young one, which will celebrate its first year in May. How can we help you? How can we participate to Womenability’s project?

Charline : To support us, there are many ways. First of all, talk about it, it is really great – thanks a lot. We also have a donation campaign on www.helloasso.com, the link is on our website www.womenability.org. Then we can use all of your networks in all of the cities we will visit : local NGOs for partnership, hosting, accommodation… Any help is welcome !

Juliette : Noted ! All information about the Womenability project on your website www.womenability.org, on social media too. We will of course put all the links on Radio Notre-Dame website, so people can inquire themselves and talk about this problem, which still is a current one, that women, girls, young women can finally stop and enjoy our beautiful cities. Thank you very much Charline OUARRAKI for being here. We wish you a great world tour.

Charline : Thank you very much.

Leo : Thank you to you two. It was Juliette LOISEAU’s meeting.