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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2007, 11:13 GMT
Gender change for Vienna signs
By Bethany Bell
BBC News, Vienna

Emergency exit sign showing woman running
Some signs do not comply with EU safety rules on uniformity
Signs in Vienna are changing gender.

The Vienna City Council, in an attempt to fight bias, has launched a campaign to show images of women as well as men on public information signs.

In Vienna's town hall the signs for nappy-changing facilities have been given a new look.

The old version just showed a mother and child.

But now there is also an image of a man changing his baby.

The pictograms are intended to make people rethink gender-based stereotypes - as well as to encourage any Viennese fathers out and about with their children.

Sonja Wehsely, the Vienna City Councillor for Women's Affairs, says it is all about changing perceptions.

"Language and picture language says a lot about social roles," she says.

"We are used to seeing pictograms of men for everything, and only pictograms of women when it is to do with children. That's not reality."

Father changing nappy sign
Criticism of the new signs has come mostly from men

The Vienna transport system is also getting a gender equality makeover.

The well-known priority seating stickers in buses and trams have been subtly altered.

The traditional version includes a mother and child, an old man and a disabled man.

In the new version some of them have changed sex.

The campaign has sparked a huge debate.

City officials say they have received thousands of e-mails both praising and criticising the new images.

Over half of the e-mails were negative, and of those, 80% were from men.

The organisers of the campaign have also designed a number of images which cannot actually be produced because they do not comply with EU safety norms which insist on uniformity.

Father and child sign
The new signs are being used on the city's transport system

These include an idea for a fire exit sign showing a woman in boots with flying hair, or a warning sign for slippery surfaces which shows a long-haired woman in high heels falling on the floor.

Some Viennese are sceptical about whether such pictures really improve the image of women.

"I think some of the signs are old-fashioned, but I think some of the new signs are even more discriminating against women that the old ones," said one Vienna father.

But the organisers say they will not give up.

They hope this issue will not be skirted forever.


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