What's in a name: fighting the gender gap through toponymy

The Italian organisation Toponomastica femminile, winner of the first prize, is committed to combating gender disparities by naming places, particularly urban streets, squares and parks, after notable women. Maria Pia Ercolini argues that this symbolic recognition of their contributions to the community can go a long way towards guaranteeing women their rightful place in society.

EESC Info: What does this prize mean for you and your organisation?

Maria Pia Ercolini: The EU's recognition of our work gives the organisation the authority to form international networks and export good practices.

What advice would you give to other organisations in terms of achieving results with such activities and programmes?

I would recommend taking part in local, national and international groups and projects of all kinds, always highlighting the work of women. This increases the visibility and effectiveness of existing organisations while at the same time developing civic feeling and encouraging every single person to step up to the plate when it comes to constructing society and forming networks.

How will you use this specific funding to provide further help in the community?

We intend to build a database accessible to all, to make regional toponymy policies transparent and visible, to take our activities international by building a multilingual site with maps and geolocation of women's roads, to publish female itineraries across the EU and to provide advice to and cooperate with interested administrations and associations.

In your view, what is the best way to combat gender stereotypes and reduce prejudice? Why do you think that addressing stereotypes on a more symbolic or subconscious level could help change misconceptions and prejudice about women's role in society?

In order to combat stereotypes and prejudice, we must operate on various levels, involve all age and social groups and professional categories, regardless of gender, and avoid excluding people who may balk. Prejudice comes from the symbolic and is rooted in images and models that fail to reflect the complexity of individuals and genders; in order to change instinctive reactions and behaviour, we must leverage clear-eyed observation of what people do on a day to day basis.