A sign for women-first parking in a Seoul shopping center.
A sign for women-first parking in a Seoul shopping center. Ian Baldessari/CityLab

They’re like regular parking spaces. Except, you know, pink.

On an early afternoon in Seoul, Kyung-jin Lee, walked out of an upscale shopping mall near Hanyang University and found her black Kia, which was parked in one of the South Korean city’s parking spots for women.

You can’t miss them: The spots are marked with pink borders, painted figures in mini-skirts, and overhead signs declaring “Female Parking First” in both Korean and English. They are usually lit well and closer to building entrances than other spaces, and often next to handicap spots. Some are longer and wider than other parking spaces; others are supposedly made with a material easier on high heels than concrete.

Lee, an office worker on a lunch break with a friend, is a big fan of these women’s parking spots, which began popping up in Seoul back in 2009. Stories about them have occasionally achieved a measure of international virality ever since. There are more than 4,000 of them throughout the city, part of a $75 million push to make Seoul more accessible to women, which also included thousands of new public toilets throughout the city.

“It’s comfortable when we go to the grocery store,” Lee said. “We are close to the entrance, so it’s much easier to carry our bags.” She also said it’s easier for women to bring their children with them.

Yes, gendered parking is a thing. (Ian Baldessari/CityLab)

Seoul is hardly the first city to boast female-centric parking infrastructure: The concept emerged from Germany in the 1990s. (And, yes, of course there’s a word in German for it: frauenparkplatz.) Several cities in China and Indonesia also have spaces designated for female motorists. In Seoul, the spaces are prioritized for women, but men seem to be allowed to park there as well. On a recent afternoon, the number of men parked in the spots appeared to nearly equal the number of women drivers.

While international coverage of gendered parking tends to criticize the spots’ patronizing pinkness and larger scale (which suggests, to some, lesser parking skills), Seoul residents appear to be less scandalized by the idea. The #MeToo movement against sexual violence has taken off in South Korea, and the Korean government promised in March to reassess the country’s sexual assault laws. Many see women’s parking as part of a larger effort to provide safer spaces. Early this year, for example, Seoul Metro installed “scream sensors”—designed to automatically detect cries for assistance—in women’s bathrooms in several subway stations.

Jae-won Ko, a 35-year-old salesman who was on his way to lunch with his wife and 2-year-old son, said he thinks the spots are necessary to help prevent violence against women. “Anything we can do is great,” he said. But Ko couldn’t resist taking a shot at female drivers. “Some women’s driving skill is not the best,” he said.

Seok-hyun Kim, a businessman, dismissed the idea that the larger spaces suggest poor driving habits. He said the spaces are larger to help women with children or with lots of things to carry, not because women are bad drivers. “It’s case by case,” he said. “My wife is a very good driver.”

Walking to her car to head back to her office, Kyung-jin Lee, who has been driving for 10 years, agreed. She said many women (and men) are learning to drive in Seoul, which has a challenging driving culture, and haven’t quite mastered parking yet. “Not me,” she emphasized. “But others.”

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