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Vienna launches
gender-friendly signs on public transport

Vienna launches
gender-friendly signs on public transport

Vienna officials launched new gender-friendly signs on a public bus Tuesday as part of a campaign that has caused a firestorm of protest in the Austrian capital. The stickers, meant to designate transport seats for people with special needs, are aimed at downplaying differences between the sexes. They feature an elderly woman with a cane, a blind man, and a man with a child on his lap. The older versions of the stickers show an elderly man, a blind man, and a woman with a child. There are also plans to include an image of a blind woman in the revamped set. Both sets also feature a pregnant woman. The new signs, part of a campaign called ''Vienna Sees It Differently," were inaugurated Tuesday by Deputy Mayor Sepp Rieder and Sonja Wehsely, city councilor for women's affairs. Over time the city plans to replace half of the old signs, including those on trams and subways. At a news conference in December, Wehsely presented the new public transportation signs in addition to a set of images, including one depicting a ponytailed female figure wearing a skirt and working at a construction site and another showing a woman in knee-high boots and flowing hair running for an exit. But the images have sparked a stormy response, with opponents calling them a waste of money or sexist. The campaign will cost about 2,000 euros (U.S. $2,580), Wehsely said, adding that the public transportation signs will be put up over time as the older ones start peeling off. Three emergency exit signs depicting a woman were removed from Vienna's city hall after just a day after a security expert said they did not conform with EU regulations, Wehsely spokeswoman Marianne Lackner said. The construction site image, along with several others, was only depicted on a poster describing the campaign and won't be put to use officially either. Wehsely said she welcomed the debate sparked by signs as ''a step in the right direction,'' adding that most of the negative feedback has come from men. But not all women seemed to welcome the new signs. ''I'm a woman but I couldn't care less if there's a woman or a man on the sign. I'd prefer it if I got the same salary as my male colleagues,'' wrote one reader on the Web site of the Austrian newspaper Der Standard in response to an article on Tuesday's inauguration. If the signs are meant to apply to women, then they also should show women, Wehsely said, noting that previously women were only depicted in relation to children. Vienna has undertaken other moves to make things easier for women, including expanding sidewalks in one district to accommodate baby carriages and shopping bags, Wehsely said. (Veronika Oleksyn, AP)

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