Expanding safety audit tools: Body-map storytelling

Expanding safety audit tools: Body-map storytelling

Feminist organizations and researchers have worked for decades to create safer cities for women and eradicate gender violence. Despite the progress made, gender violence continues being a major issue today in most societies and it reflects the impacts on gendered, racialized and sexualized bodies of a patriarchal and a capitalist society. Several organizations and women’s groups in different parts of the globe have implemented programs to promote women’s safety, for example, using the safety audit tool.

There are still challenges that we face in the struggle against gender violence. One that has been persistent is the reproduction through policies and practices of the public-private division, in particular in the urban planning field, which prevents planning to effectively address gender violence. As a way to challenge this divide, we propose using the actual space of bodies to further challenge the public–private constructed division and advance planning practice. Violence is directed at and within bodies with various identities (gender, race, sexuality, citizenship status), thus understanding how bodies as geographic spaces feel and experience violence and fear has the potential for dissolving the public–private divide and collecting data to be including in planning policies and practices.

One of the methods that can be used to include bodies as geographical space of analysis is body-map storytelling. Since the 1980s body-map storytelling has been used with different populations, for example, with women to explore issues of sexual health and reproduction or with migrant people to document migration experiences and health concerns. Body-map storytelling could be a powerful planning tool to support the understanding and analysis of women’s safety, since fear and gender violence are directly attached to women’s sexualized bodies. A body-map story usually includes a life-size body map where each person draw how their body has experienced any type of violence, fear, the impact of the urban environment in their bodies, as well as areas of strengths and power. The body map is usually accompanied by a testimonio, a brief story narrated in the first person about the experience of creating a body-map and the meaning of what the person has drawn.

Body-map storytelling can be integrated in the existing safety strategies from a gender perspective, and safety audits toolkits as an example. It can also be combined with other existing tools, such as community mapping as a way to build a continuum between the private and public sphere.

Col·lectiu Punt 6, a feminist organization of women architects and urban planners based in Barcelona, Spain, is starting to include body-map storytelling in their projects. The organization has developed in the last ten years a set of tools to include women both as objects and subjects of community planning, and as experts of everyday life. Through the combination of body-map storytelling, collective exploratory walks and community mapping women discuss gender violence, fear and safety through personal embodied experiences and community assessments. As a result, safety audits can gather additional information about safety perceptions.


Sara Ortiz Escalante is a member of Col·lectiu Punt 6 and a PhD Student at the School of Community and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia

Elizabeth L. Sweet is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Temple University, Geography and Urban Studies,

For more information about the use and potential of body-map storytelling you can read Sweet, Elizabeth. L., & Ortiz Escalante, Sara (2014). Bringing bodies into planning: Visceral methods, fear and gender violence. Urban Studies, 0042098014541157.

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