Where The Streets Have Men's Names (And How To Change That)

19 hours ago
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

If you walked the streets of Amsterdam or some other Dutch city this week, you may have noticed street maps didn't work. That's because about a dozen avenues in each town had been renamed with temporary placards bearing the names of prominent women - turns out that an estimated 88 percent of Dutch streets are named after men. And a group there called De Bovengrondse - that means above ground - decided it's time for a change. Santi van den Toorn is one of the founders of the group. She joins us on Skype from Amsterdam. Thanks so much for being with us.

SANTI VAN DEN TOORN: Yes, of course - no problem.

SIMON: So you just put up your signs near the street signs?

VAN DEN TOORN: Yeah. We placed them either below or just above them so people could actually still see the original name and see the difference between them.

SIMON: Any authorities say you can't do that?

VAN DEN TOORN: No. Some authorities did pass us whilst we were doing it in Amsterdam, but they didn't say anything.

SIMON: How did you choose what women's names to put onto the placards?

VAN DEN TOORN: We had a research team doing a lot of research. So we first started with just making a really big list of all inspirational women that we could think of. And then we had to narrow it down. And we wanted it to be a quite diverse group. So we wanted to have a sports woman, a politician, a scientist, an activist. So we just - they decided on which one had most impact in history and people could relate to. And so they narrowed it down to 12 people that we finally picked.

SIMON: There's a Beyonce Boulevard.

VAN DEN TOORN: Yeah. So that's the one that we added for some fun. And we thought a lot of people know her, of course. She's - because the others - they are very important women, but the problem is that not everyone knows their names. And so we thought for it to have a little bit more - to get more relatable, we added Beyonce.

SIMON: Tell us, if you could, about a woman named Marie Anne Tellegen.

VAN DEN TOORN: So she was a prominent resistance fighter in the Second World War in the Netherlands. And often when you hear stories about the Second World War, you mostly hear stories about men who also were very courageous. But we thought it's important to also honor women that did important work in the war.

SIMON: What kind of public reaction have you got?

VAN DEN TOORN: It's been mostly very positive. A lot of people really like what we did. Of course, oftentimes, you hear that feminists don't have any humor, and they're just annoying. But this time...

SIMON: You'll never hear that here. But go ahead. Yes.

VAN DEN TOORN: That's what happens here. And so people were happy that we did something that was more funny and more lighthearted in a way, although it, of course, represents a bigger problem. And we're also very happy that already some people working at municipalities are working in the committee that decide on the street names have contacted us saying that they really liked what we did and want to talk to us about future street names.

SIMON: Santi van den Toorn, one of the founders of the group De Bovengrondse - thanks very much for speaking with us.

VAN DEN TOORN: No problem - it was a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.