Spain is finally renaming hundreds of streets that are named after men–specifically men from the era of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco–and naming them for women instead. And not just Spanish women, either. Out go fascist, Francoist colonels, and in come new, notable women ranging from Rosa Parks to Greek mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria.
In Spain, many streets are named for people, with a few excellent choices: Barcelona has a Plaça George Orwell and a Plaça John Lennon. But while male-named streets get proper historical figures, most female-named streets are named after saints and virgins. In Leon, a city in Spain’s Castilian heartland, fewer than 5% of streets have women’s names. And that, thanks to some changes in policy, is getting fixed.
Back in 1994, the Madrid City Council unanimously refused to name a street after Spanish civil war hero and Basque national Dolores Ibárruri. That kicked off a campaign by the United Left party to dedicate 50 Madrid streets to women. It’s taken a while, but it’s finally happening, and not just in Madrid, but in cities across Spain. Valencia, Oviedo, and Cadiz are all doing the same.
In many cities, popular votes are being used to choose the new names. In Madrid, where 35 streets named after Francoist men are being changed, voting just closed on 100 female alternatives, including Ibárruri. Oviedo, in Asturias, in northwestern Spain, the city is changing 22 street names, and in the Valencian municipality of Quart de Poblet, eight streets will be renamed, with the names taken from a list of 24 women including, says Spain’s El Diario, Rosa Luxemburg, Marie Curie, and Spanish author Carmen Martín Gaite.
The idea is to change policy, not just to rename a few streets and be done with it. Valencia’s Equality Commission has decreed that four out of every five streets named from now on will be named after women, to better redress the balance, and hopefully other cities will follow. Spain still has a very patriarchal society, and the political and institutions reflect this. Renaming the streets to show women not just as saints and virgins, but as historical figures equal to men, may help push back against some of the institutionalized sexism.