The “Frauenparkplatz”: sexism or safety?
The “Frauenparkplatz” is a common phenomenon in German traffic. Is it the realisation of a sexist, bad joke or does it actually have a well-intended purpose? Safety and security appear to be more important than one may think.
It is a very well-known joke: ‘men can drive better than women’, especially when it comes to parking. Most people would laugh about it and shrug it off. However, some German regions have taken this joke very seriously and introduced the “Frauenparkplatz” (“women’s parking space”) that often happens to be wider than the regular parking spaces. As one of the founding fathers of the European Union, Germany signed the EU Equal Opportunities Policy. By having done that, Germany shows that it is trying to ban gender inequality from its society. Although Germany pretends to be a country that has less to do with discrimination and gender inequality, the introduction of the “Frauenparkplatz” seems an act that contradicts this. What is the purpose and background of this “Frauenparkplatz” policy that appears to be discriminatory?
Well-intended security measure
At first instance, this topic does not seem to have a clear relation with criminal justice, but when it comes to the legal articles concerned, the connection becomes more obvious. The women’s parking space is not officially mentioned in the German, national ’Straßenverkehrsordnung’. Instead, the regional authorities and the local private garage owners are allowed to determine whether they implement women’s parking spaces or not. For instance, the ‘Verordnung über den Bau und Betrieb von Garagen’ from Nordrhein-Westfalen, §9, article 3 mentions the “Frauenparkplatz”. According to that article every accessible private garage must facilitate enough women’s parking spaces and they need to be marked as such. They also need to be located as close to the entrance or exit as possible, so that they can be monitored by the garage attendant or video cameras. The garage owner is also obliged to provide the garage with sufficient alarm detectors and most of the time those parking spaces are well-lit. Another German region that includes a comparable clause in the traffic law is Schleswig-Holstein.
Although women may feel insulted by the special parking space, according to ‘Das Allgemeine Gleichbehandlungsgesetz’ (AGG) – the German equal-treatment-declaration – the “Frauenparkplatz” is not discriminatory: the different treatment is justified by ‘comprehensible reasons’ to protect women’s security and safety (§ 20 Abs. 1 Nr. 2 AGG). Besides, since the “Frauenparkplatz” is not mentioned in the German ’Straßenverkehrsordnung’, both women and men are allowed to park there (although it would be ‘not done’, should a man actually park there) and therefore the “Frauenparkplatz” is not discriminatory and not in contradiction with the AGG.
In 2011 there was a civil case about the “Frauenparkplatz” – ‘Frauen vor Männern’ – in which a man contested this phenomenon and felt insulted because of the difference in treatment he experienced. However, the German court emphasized that those special parking spaces exist to protect women from sexual assaults, since they are more likely to fall victim to such offences than men. Davis and others (2009) also show that women feel more insecure in more isolated areas. According to the German court, the purpose of the “Frauenparkplatz” is to protect women from being isolated, thus increasing their safety.
The special parking spaces were not invented for discriminative reasons, but to create a safer environment for women. However, I wonder if this will solve the security problem. In addition to the women that may use those parking spaces, malicious persons will also know where those spaces are and if they are determined to harm anyone, they will not feel obstructed by a video camera or a garage attendant. In fact, those special parking spaces might unintentionally point the perpetrators to their victims, rather than protect the victim from being hurt by the perpetrator. However, there are no available statistics or numbers that could confirm or contradict this assumption. The effects of the “Frauenparkplatz” in general cannot be found.
I have experienced myself that the sizes of the women’s parking spaces vary. The spaces near highways are often wider than the regular ones, whereas the spaces in warehouse garages have the same size as the regular ones. As mentioned earlier, the “Frauenparkplatz” policy is not the same in every German region, resulting in different rules when it comes to who is allowed to park at the Frauenparkplatz”. Very often both women and men with children are allowed to use such spaces, which partially explains the size of the parking spaces. However, the combination of the name “Frauenparkplatz” and its size may cause women to feel discriminated against, because of a general prejudice regarding women’s driving skills. But is that prejudice correct in the first place? Derks and others (2011) have shown that women who are sensitive to group stereotyping are more likely to show stereotypic behaviour than women who are not. This could happen when stereotype-sensitive women try to park their car. However, an NCP study, performed in 2012, indicates that this prejudice regarding women’s driving skills is not correct, because it shows that women in general are better at parking (with a parking coefficient of 13.4) than men (who have a parking coefficient of 12.3).
Comparatively, Germany is not the only country that introduced such parking spaces. South-Korea and China have created comparable parking spaces on their parking lots, using safety motives as well. However, those spaces differ from the German ones, since they happen to be wider and longer than regular spaces and they are coloured pink. According to those countries, women need more space than men when turning into a parking space. This is obviously a discriminatory situation and the German situation is – fortunately – not like that.
Is it sexism or safety?
At first glance, without knowing the background or purpose, I considered the “Frauenparkplatz” to be a discriminatory phenomenon. However, my opinion changed after reading the legal articles. This policy appears to be well-intended and I can understand the policy makers’ point of view. The spaces are often wider than regular ones, because both women and men with children can park there. All those security measures should impose a higher safety level in garages and parking areas, especially for women. However, if the German policy makers really want to avoid women feeling discriminated against, then “Frauenparkplatz” is – especially due to its size and the related prejudices about women’s driving skills – a very unfortunate name. I would suggest to either change the “Frauenparkplatz” to “Familienparkplatz”, or enlarge all parking spaces to the same size.