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Sexism and the city: How to make Berlin better for women

From anti-manspreading signage on public transport to free menstrual products, there are countless ways in which Berlin could be better for women. Here are our top five.

Photo: Waldemar Brandt / Unsplash

Berlin may have a reputation as a progressive city but it doesn’t take a genius to notice the many ways it’s ill-designed for women and folks who don’t subscribe to the gender norms of hetero-masculinity. So how could Berlin get better for women? Here are 5 ways, to start with…

Put anti-manspreading signs on public transport

IMAGO / Sabine Gudath

It’s too common to look across a crowded U-Bahn carriage and see men sitting back comfortably with legs spread, while women are forced to squeeze into the free remaining spots.

People with vaginas just aren’t granted the same freedom-of-public urination as people with penises

The truth is: women are socialised to avoid taking up room, in all senses. When men dominate physical space in public areas (like public transport), it’s a very real (and extremely annoying) metaphor for how they seem more entitled to the world around them.

Many women have likely given a good few death stares and audible sighs when they’re forced to squeeze into the half-seat that’s been left for them, but it’s time for things to change. Let’s put up anti-manspreading signs on all public transport!

Make neighbourhoods more walkable

IMAGO / Michael Gstettenbauer

It’s a sad truth that in many family units, it falls upon women to take responsibility for a lot of the care work and coordination of family life, meaning countless journeys between school, the workplace, supermarkets, playgrounds and home.

We wish it wasn’t this way – but unfortunately it is and it’s usually this time spent commuting back and forth that cuts into womens’ work (and leisure) time.

Neighbourhoods should be designed with this in mind! While many of Berlin’s more established kiez are decent examples of urban planning, the city’s newer residential areas like the dystopian-esc Europaplatz off Heidestraße, often miss the mark.

This isn’t only a gendered-issue (everyone likes to be able to pop over to the shops without a commute!) but when you recognise the invisible work done by women, you start to see the imbalance.

Have free menstrual products available in public buildings


Women (or anyone with a uterus, however they identify) can’t help menstruating. No one is exactly the same, but on the whole this experience tends to be annoying, painful and emotionally-taxing – not to mention expensive.

Women are socialised to avoid taking up room, in all senses.

Slowly, things are getting better. More affordable options have become available in the last few years (like menstrual cups and reusable pads), but even these are pretty pricey up front. And thenm since January 2020, the luxury tax on menstrual products has been cut (what a treat!).

But the fact that people who get periods have to spend anything at all on menstrual products is fundamentally unfair. We say – make menstrual products freely available in the toilets of public buildings!

Build more (free) stand-up toilets for people with vaginas

IMAGO / Mauersberger

It’s great news that Berlin has laid out plans to build 24 vagina-friendly urinals, known as ‘Missoirs’ (pissior + miss, get it?). For far too long, the city has not taken women’s needs into account when building public toilets.

As recently as 2020, Berlin built public toilets that either only have urinals, or have sit-down toilets which cost 50 cents to access, while the urinals are free to use. On top of that, the urinals are built in such a way that you can see the men using them when you walk past. This kind of design just plays into the idea that there’s nothing shameful or unsightly about a man pissing in public, while a woman squatting for a wee in an alleyway would at least get some double-takes.

The fact is that people with vaginas just aren’t granted the same freedom-of-public urination as people with penises. In this case, a decent amount of free public toilets for women is the least the city can do.

More Kita spaces


Once again, we wish this didn’t disproportionately impact women, but it does. While of course more kita spots would benefit everyone with children, it’s often women who are more likely to sacrifice working hours to at-home child care.

In Berlin, it’s notoriously hard to find a place in a kita, with some parents waiting 6 to 18 months for a placement for their kid. So while parents are waiting for a spot, it’s often the woman who bears the brunt of the childcare. There are a few different reasons for this. In a family unit, it might be that the woman is already earning less than her male counterpart (in Germany women earn 18% less per hour than men).

So her losing hours at work to look after the kids is less of a hit to the household earnings. That’s why more kitas, especially those attached to offices or even co-working spaces, just makes sense.