Mapping women in Tehran's public spaces: a geo-visualization perspective

Nazgol Bagheri

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Bagheri, N. (1). Mapping women in Tehran's public spaces: a geo-visualization perspective. Gender, Place & Culture, 21(10), 1285–1301.

Geo-visualization , Public Spaces , Tehran , Women

Functioning public spaces, as ‘public’ political, social, and cultural arenas of citizen discourse, affect not only the citizen’s quality of life, but are also indispensable infrastructure in democratic societies. This article offers a nuanced understanding of Iranian women’s usage, feelings, and preferences in public spaces in present-day Tehran by not simply importing Western theories that sustain distinctions between traditional and modern women, but instead by hearing women’s stories. This article raises concerns related to the gender identities, the politics of space, and design of these places. Meidan-e-Tajrish, Sabz-e-Meidan, and Marvi Meidancheh in Tehran accommodate an ethnographic visualization of gendering space. The process by which Iranian women attach symbolic meanings to those public spaces offers insight into the mutual construction of gender identities and space politics. The contrasting urban locations, different design styles, and distinct social activities provide an excellent comparison between the selected public spaces. Findings suggest caution in using gender as an essential category in feminist geography research to better represent the diversity of experiences in public spaces. Binary categorization of modern versus traditional, secular versus religious, public versus private, and male versus female in urban studies should be carefully validated as Iranian women’s lived experiences challenge the homogenizing Western theories, particularly the predominant critics of modern public spaces in North America. The research process also highlights the benefits of geo-visualization in understanding the complex interaction between gender identities and the built environment.

Main finding
While women’s use of public space is controlled in Tehran, their mobility and agency in public space becomes more clear when ethnographic narratives are combined with GIS data. This article argues that gender boundaries are not fully materialized and translated into lived experiences for women. Iranian women have unexpected ways of navigating public space that allow them to enjoy both modern and traditional public spaces. Enclosed, privatized spaces such as shopping malls are more isolated from societal norms, leading to women (young women in particular) to express and present themselves differently than they would normally. The more traditional male-dominated public spaces are also enjoyed, however, as a part of their cultural identity, and the participants generally appreciated being able to move and choose between the public spaces, adjusting their presentation and behavior accordingly. Women are often excluded from the public space design process, contributing to their political marginalization. They maintain agency, however, in (re)defining public space, maneuvering and manipulating boundaries to fit their needs.

Description of method used in the article
A mixed-method approach combining ethnography data and Geographic Information System (GIS) visualization was used to study the usages, preferences, and feelings of Iranian women toward public spaces in Tehran. Three public spaces are selected due to their contrasting urban designs and spatial settings: Meidan e-Tajrish, Sabz-e-Meidan, and Marvi Meidanche. Researchers recorded types and timing of activities practiced in selected public spaces, particularly by women. Behavioral maps were created for each section of the public spaces to represent people’s counts and activities by age, gender, and location. Moreover, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 83 women in the selected public spaces. The participants were asked about their reasons for being in the public space in question, how and when they attend public spaces, the duration of their stay, and their feelings about the selected public spaces.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Interviews Spatial Methods
Physical types
Markets Squares
Geographic locations