Are Germany’s “Women-Only” Parking Spaces Sexist?

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Germans debate whether “women-only” parking spaces are sexist.

Many German parking lots are equipped with special spaces for women, very akin to parking designated for the handicapped. In some regions of Germany, law forces parking lot owners to designate at least 30 percent of their space specifically for women.

Those parking lots are bigger than usual, which is supposed to make it easier for women to maneuver their cars. Some Germans like the idea, but others call it a sexist way of implying that women are worse drivers than men.

Women’s-only car parks exist in quite a lot of other nations, including Austria, Switzerland, and China. In northern China, a shopping mall inaugurated parking spaces last year that were about one foot wider than normal ones, and painted in pink.  Spokesperson for the shopping mall defended the decision back then, saying: “The fact that our women’s parking spaces are wider is simply due to practical reasons and shouldn’t imply that women are worse at driving than men.”

Germany first began using women’s-only car parks in an attempt to protect women from potential attacks. In the 1990s, an increasing number of women expressed their anxiety about using dark, unlit parking lots due to the possibility of sexual assault. Many cities established special women’s parking spaces that were well lit and located closer to busy streets or buildings.

More recent police data suggests that the risks posed by dark German parking lots were exaggerated — nevertheless, women’s parking spaces are so deeply ingrained that few would dare to remove them.

“Today, nobody needs women’s parking lots anymore — especially not in the modern, lucid and well-lit shopping malls,” reporter Werner Mathes argued in an op-ed for German weekly Stern. “In some Swiss cities, such as Zurich or Luzern, one has gotten rid of those spaces years ago, because parking lots are much brighter and better lit than in the past.”

It’s not obligatory for women to use those spaces, and supporters refer to the fact that there are also designated men’s parking lots. However, those “male” spaces are especially tiny and difficult to use — which could be perceived as sexist, as well, some argue. It is implied that only the most skillful male drivers could utilize such parking spots. According to news site The Local, the mayor of a small town in southern Germany justified the creation of men’s parking spaces in the following way: “We found that two places were not rectangular, at an angle to the road and placed between walls and pillars. This makes parking difficult so we decided to allocate them to men.”

“It’s very patronizing for women to be singled out in this way,” Geraldine Herbert, editor of Wheels for Women magazine, said. “All this does is reinforce the stereotype that women are bad at parking.”

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“Are Germany’s “Women-Only” Parking Spaces Sexist?”