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Making Women Visible: Walking in Another Nicosia
Organisation : Center for Gender Equality and History , Cyprus

The goal is to make social and material interventions into the urban space and landscape of Nicosia, aiming to make women's contribution and history visible. Initially, a series of alternative historical walks take place in the city, focusing on women's (in)visibility in the urban landscape. The walks are free and operate as means of a structured dialogue between the team and the participants–coming from different groups living in the city–aiming to construct a plan for interventions and strategically implement them. The aim is to transform the urban space, from a space of women's devaluation into a space of fair recognition.

Agendas addressed
Public spaceSocial inclusion and integration
Pathways followed
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
Context
26/11/2016. Doing another walk. A stop in front of an Ottoman house.

The urban landscape of Nicosia is marked by the invisibility of the history and contribution of women (http://kiif.com.cy/about-us/). Despite the variety of male statues, street names, and military monuments, women's presence is depressingly neglected in terms of landmarks. This makes the urban landscape a space of women's devaluation. However, although not visible, our Center found important historical traces of women's presence (economic/social activities, production of arts/literature, women's struggles, etc). Moreover, regarding the situation in the city, Nicosia–as a result of the Cyprus Problem–is marked by a dividing military line, separating the northern part (recognized only by Turkey, dominated by Turkish Cypriots) and the southern part of the city (internationally recognized, dominated by Greek Cypriots). Our action aims to walk accross the divide, discuss the invisibility of women in both 'sides' and symbolically unite Nicosia by suggesting pragmatic changes to make women of both communities–and new communitiies such as immigrant women–visible.

In Action
20/04/2018. A walk presented to students in the framework of an UNESCO symposium.

An important part of the year-round activities of the Center for Gender Equality and History consists of the organization of free women’s history walks in Nicosia (http://kiif.com.cy/womens-history-walk/). These are alternative “tours” seeking to make visible some aspects of women’s history in response to specific points of interest. Particularly, on October 2016, we organized probably the first women’s history walk ever occurred in Cyprus titled "Reviving the Invisible History of Women–A Walk in another Nicosia". Our project was chosen by the Youth Board of Cyprus to be represented to its televsion show (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKJ34-ifk_Y). The walks have all been prepared and presented by a group of women, volunteers of KIIF, including historians, researchers & activists. Considering that women’s history in Cyprus is depressingly under-researched, the team selected the points of interest after extent research and observation. Reflecting the collective nature of the work, the members of the team are all “guides”; hence a different person presents each point of interest. The walks attempt to draw on multicultural and multi-communal perspectives of history. While we aspire to make these walks a sustainable part of our activities, we have decided to expand these efforts into a new project of tranforming the city. Particularly, this action aims to use the walks as means of a structured dialogue, aiming to result into tangible changes of the urban landscape and space. This includes three stages: (1) STRUCTURED DIALOGUE: By inviting and presenting the walks to men & women from different groups–including historians, gender activists, traditional communities of Cyprus such as Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Maronites, Armenians, etc, and new communities such as immigrants & refugees–, the Center records their knowledge/views on which stories are important and what small steps should be taken to make the history of Nicosian women visible. (2) PLAN FOR CHANGE. Drawing on the dialogue and the experience of walking–across the divide–, our team will construct a plan for interventions. This will include smaller and larger interventions (i.e. installing maps of a women's history walk into particular points in the city, constructing statues of important women, installing placards around the city to make the aspect of women's history/contribution visible in reference to particular buildings or landmarks, establishing social or "temporary" interventions, such as social gatherings or festivals on the visibility of women's contribution). (3) TRANSFORMING. Our team will work to realize the plan for interventions, through cooperation with local authorities and civil society.

Results
11/03/2018. Doing a walk at the northern part of Nicosia.

This tranformative action has already achieved some first results. Particularly, the implementation of women's history walks, on a sustainable basis, is already a social intervention:

  • Several groups (from gender experts, historians, artists, and representatives of local authorities to the wider public and the local community) participated in the free walks, having the oportunity to see Nicosia from a different perspective. 
  • Considering that women’s history in Nicosia, and in Cyprus in general, is depressingly under-researched, the team selected the points of interest after extent research and investigation based mainly on primary sources, such as archives, periodicals, interviews with women and men living in the city, etc.
  • Through this experience, the team has found multiple examples where important traces of women's history were recognised. As examples, we mention a historic "women's bazar" which began during the 14th century and continued until the first half of the 20th century, the very first school for girls in Cyprus which was established in Nicosia in 1859 and was also the basis of the first women's organization in the city.
  • The team has also found examples of women's invisibility (for example, we noted the lack of female street names or women's statues). In this context, the team has collected the first thoughts and ideas on small and larger interventions that could take place during this project.
  • Overall, through research and organization of women's history walks, the team has already achieved a first mapping of the problem and the initiation of a public dialogue on the visibility and invisibility of women's history in the space and the landscape of Nicosia.
  • The walks have resulted in several publications (http://kiif.com.cy/womens-history-walk/ & http://kiif.com.cy/publications/) including maps with alternative women's history routes and brief descriptions of selected points of interest.
Impact

Transforming the urban space of Nicosia, from a space of women's devaluation and invisibility, into a space of recognition, will have an important and sustainable impact on the citizens of Nicosia. With the implementation of this tranformative action, the urban space and landscape will operate as a stimuli for women and girls' empowerment, and for the empowerment of all genders and ages in combating stereotypes and inequalities. Women/girls will be able to recognize role-models in the landscape of their city and understand that, as women, they did have a contribution into the making of their city and local society. Students–both boys and girls–visiting historical landscapes will learn about great women, whereas today they can only see the contribution of great men–military leaders, artists, poets, philosophers–but no great women. At the same time, women's absence seems to be "normal" and "natural", since the fact that women had to struggle for the right to participate in equal terms in spheres such as politics, military, literature, arts etc, is also not visible. This way, the urban landscape today is a constant means of reproducing myths about women's "abilities" and "inabilities". In contrast, by making women visible, by including the presence of women's admirable acts, whether these were individual acts of courage or creativity, or they were collective struggles for their rights, this action promotes a positive identity and questions the normalization of stereotypes, by showing the context in which the women were many times not allowed to participate in high positions or faced obstacles. The new urban landscape, referring to the women of all communities and across the dividing line, will be a constant reminder to all citizens and visitors that the city not only builds a culture of mutual respect and equality but also a culture of peace and social inclusion.

Challenges and lessons learned

Women's history is overlooked in most countries. This is reflected onto the urban space of many cities making this activity internationally relevant. Some of the challenges refer to learning and mapping the problem, as well as transforming the public space. Considering that even the bibliography on women's history is poor, finding the hidden stories behind urban spaces is quite challenging on its own. Making priorities, selecting the stories worth to be captured and are more feasible, and finding proper tools to make women visible, are all challenging actions. A clear strategic plan is crucial for the success of each step.  

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