Girls in de city of Niamey (Niger) will be able to socialize more easily in the future thanks to the public routings Nigerien architect Mariam Kamara (atelier masōmī) designed for the city. Kamara’s work is another great example of African creativity we encountered while researching for our upcoming What Africa Can Do for Europe theme at WDCD Live 2016.

By Sinette Hesselink

‘In the context of a Muslim city, situated in a predominantly Muslim (albeit secular) country, a woman’s presence outside of the home–for purposes other than running errands, conducting business, or going to school–is easily questioned by society,’ Mariam Kamara writes in an article in architecture magazine Bracket.

This disapproval is partly historically rooted: during colonial times European settlers came often without their families. The only women wandering public places like cafés and restaurants were local prostitutes. As a result, socializing in ‘public space’ became synonymous with having low morals for Nigerien women. Loitering in public spaces still can damage a girl’s reputation.

”Mobile loitering”, is one tactic developed by women and girls in Niamey to circumvent this type of public scrutiny’, Kamara writes. ‘Women are able to inhabit the street by using their journey to and from social calls as a pretext, while enjoying relative privacy by simply remaining on the move.’

To facilitate these flâneries féminines Kamara proposes a marked four-mile route through the city connecting major public spaces currently used by Niamey’s youth and that passes by stations for fitness, group study, health education, and shopping.  The route thus offers women and girls destinations, and justifications for occupying city streets. A lightweight infrastructure marks the path, establishing a framework for ‘takeover’ actions, like study carrels, kiosks or a market, similar to those observed in the informal city.

The project, recognized by the Young Architects in Africa competition and exhibited at the Venice Biennale, has been submitted to the city of Niamey.  It demonstrates how architecture can be the stepping-stone for change in mentalities.

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