We in the West are used to seeing women everywhere around us. We see them as colleagues in the office, sitting next to us on the bus, as patrons in restaurants, jogging on the streets, and working in shops. We are also seeing more women than ever in leadership positions as prime ministers, politicians, chancellors, directors, and bosses. Women born in the West in the 1990s onward take this as a given. They do not consider that walking to school or sitting in a cafe is a triumph of liberalism. But in some parts of Western cities and towns these days, you may notice something strange: there are simply no women around—or very few.
Walking in certain neighborhoods in Brussels, London, Paris, or Stockholm, you suddenly notice that only men are visible. The shop assistants, waiters, and patrons in cafes are all men. In parks nearby, it is only men and boys playing soccer. In the communal areas of apartment buildings, it is men talking, laughing, and smoking. On the continent to which millions of tourists travel each year to see the female body as an object of art or wearing the latest fashions, this seems a little strange. What happened to the women? Why are they no longer sitting at sidewalk cafes or chatting in the streets?