Ensuring women have access to inclusive and secure public transport is a growing priority for economists, policy makers, urban and transport planners alike. Institutions such as the World Bank and UN Women actively research and make recommendations on the relationship between gender and transportation. That’s because the consequences reach far beyond transport use : this isn’t simply about getting around with ease; it’s about equality and advancement.
DIFFERENT TRAVEL PATTERNS
The jury is still out on whether men and women are from different planets, but one thing is certain : they do have different travel habits. For example, women in Africa, Asia and Latin America are more likely to combine domestic and caregiving duties with travelling to work, moving between multiple destinations throughout the day. This can be quite complicated when you are reliant on public transport, which is the reality for most women, especially those from lowincome backgrounds. Twothirds of public transport passengers in France are women (Source), over 50% in Latin America and the Caribbean (Source) and 55% in the US (Source). And in India, a whopping 84% of women’s journeys are by public, intermediate public and nonmotorised modes of transport (Source).
For women, limited access to transport, and the dubious level of safety while onboard, is the greatest obstacle to labour market entry, according to the International Labour Organization (Trends for Women 2017). In France, according to a FNAUT study on gender harassment in public rail transport, just 19% of women say their use of public transport is not influenced by harassment. “The lack of personal security, or the inability to use public transport without the fear of being victimised – whether on public transport, walking to or from a transit facility or stop, or waiting at a bus, transit stop, or station platform – can substantially decrease the attractiveness and thus the use of public transit”, notes a 2017 Global Mobility Report released by SuM4All (Sustainable Mobility for All), a World Bankled initiative.
From stalking and unwanted comments or gestures, to groping and assault, women are at higher risk of experiencing violence. And it’s a global problem. A 2015 French report from France’s National Observatory of Crime and Criminal Justice found that 220,000 women had been sexually harassed on public transport in what was described as “a conservative estimate”. In the Île-de-France region, for example, a study from FNAUT on gender harassment in public road transport and multimodal hubs shows that public transport (including rail stations) is the primary location for sexual assault against women, with 39% of attacks reported occurring there. And journeys at offpeak times, like early morning or late at night, present a real safety issue. Minorities are often targets of gender and sexual harassment as well. In the UK, the number of LGBT victims on the road and rail networks has tripled over the past five years alone (Source).
In an effort to reduce risk, many initiatives focus on improving the quality of transport infrastructure and operations: redesigning waiting areas, creating better lighting on access routes or improving schedules and punctuality at stops. For many women, getting around is a bit like a puzzle, and timing is critical to fit together their various daily trips. Ontime transport minimises waiting time and reduces insecurity. In other words, it makes a real difference in people’s lives. For example, a report from the InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB) in Latin America found that cutting down on tardiness and congestion also reduces the likelihood that a woman will be a victim of crime. Adapting offpeak offers, such as expanding evening and weekend services to avoid extended wait times in deserted or poorly lit stations, is also crucial.
In Quito, Ecuador, as part of UN Women’s Safe Cities Programme, officials found that 84% of women cited public transport as unsafe due to sexual violence. The city created a response plan to address the issue on every front: remodelling 43 of 44 trolley stops in line with new safety criteria, training 600 staff members to assist and respond to victims, a mobile app for reporting sexual harassment via text message, expansion of crime and violence monitoring, a communications campaign, schoolbased prevention initiatives, and more. In 2016, Quito declared the programme an “emblematic, special category project,” and committed to continuing it in the future.
Womenonly compartments on buses and trains have even been introduced in countries like Japan, India, Brazil, Egypt and Mexico as well. But for some, this is only addressing the symptoms and not the problem, and perpetuates perceptions of female vulnerability. Speaking about womenonly buses in Papua New Guinea, Lizette Soria, UN Women’s Safe Public Transport Programme, said, “This is just a short-term strategy, because our long-term goal is to make public transport safer for everyone”.