Looking at Transport through a Gendered Lens

Safecity- Elsa D'Silva
Posted July 25, 2017 from India

Aquick searchinto inventions that have marked the evolution of transport yields only male names: George Stephenson (railway), Siegfried Marcus, Karl Benz (automobile) Kirkpatric Marmillan (bicycle), Carlton C. McGee (parking meter), Nihls Bohlin, Volvo (seat belt), Charles Pearson (subway idea)… I find hard to believe that no women participated in these inventions; we have learned how history has always placed them behind the scenes – have you seen the movie Hidden figures? The point here is that with this over-representation, if not dominance of men in the transport sector, it is not surprising that public transport systems consider at all women’s mobility reality. And as we witness such low participation of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the design of mobility systems through a gender lens is something that will take many years to mainstream.

Ok, that is unfair just like everything else related to gender differences these days. Why does it matter so much in this context?

Well, it matters because it is not only unfair; it is inefficient for economies and households. Looking at transport through a gender lens can give you a whole different picture about users and employees in the sector. For example, did you knowthat women tend to use more public transport than men?Or that women’s travel patterns are different than men’s because of their care taking responsibilities? And that because of that they are more vulnerable to any changes in transport fares? Or that female employment in land transport isless than 14% in European countries, andless than 1% in India? And that these jobs tend to pay better than those in traditional sectors that employ women such as retail, trade, hospitality, restaurants, etc? Yes, think gender pay gap!

When you start using the gender lens, you realize that maybe it would be good to keep subway stations well light. Or that women that take public transportation during rush hour might find themselves more exposed to being victims of sexual harassment because, you know, in rush hour people get sticky. On this point,one studyfound that public transportation offers a level of anonymity that favors impunity of sexual abuse practices. Or that perhaps it would be good to have some women sitting at the table when setting public transit fares. And how about recruiting female operators? Research shows that they tend to be more careful and detail oriented than their male counterparts. How did we not think of that?!!

This sounds horrible… is there a way to fix this?

The good news is that yes, there is hope. Development banks, which often provide financing to cities that are investing in these systems are asking their clients topay attention to these things.This means in practice introducing surveys that capture key insights about experience of using transport, security perceptions, all of this data disaggregated by sex. Some countries have also engaged communities- ensuring female presence- in the design of these projects so all concerns are addressed at an early stage.

A huge part of this work lies on changing the culture. Transport is a male-dominated culture, which contributes to promote stereotypes related to the exclusion of women in transport. As a result, women are discouraged to apply to jobs as operators of transport, or are not studying in areas relevant to this sector. When they actually enter the sector, their retention rate is low due to the incompatibility ofwork-life balance, poor working conditions and a culture of harassment.

Employers themselves need to change the way they recruit if they are serious about including women. Some employers are building human capital and training women themselves so they can better integrate this important part of the population.

On the user side, transport operators are investing on training their staff on gender issues and security, and promoting awareness of non-acceptable sexual behavior targeting women. Moreover, some cities have opted to segregate women and men during rush hour to avoid sexual harassment incidents. Cities in countries such as Mexico, India, Thailand and Japanhave implemented this type of measures, not without controversy. Critics of transport segregation argue that by separating women and men, the real problem – gender violence – is not being solved. It is like governments were “giving up” on the problem and choosing the easy way out.

So things are happening, but this is only the beginning. Gender needs to be mainstream in transport projects because it will make public transport more successful and responsive to users’ needs; not because a bank is asking to consider this as a condition to providing a loan. And although some of the actions to make women feel safer do not happen without controversy at least the issue is on the table.

Opinions are of the writer. This blog was first published on Safecity.

A Colombian and French national,Jimena Serranois based in Washington DC where she spends her time creating economic opportunities for women in the energy and agricultural sectors in Latin America for a development bank. Her prior experience includes the construction of indices focused on the environment for female entrepreneurial activities as well as on the environment for financial inclusion. A lawyer in her native Bogota, she decided to migrate to the United States to obtain a masters degree in International Economics from the Johns Hopkins University. Her concern on the problems women face and the importance of bringing visibility to data led her to volunteer with Safecity

Comments 6

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ANJ ANA
Jul 26, 2017
Jul 26, 2017

Nice reading. Its true that women are confined in care works, that is why they were not inventor, not economic actor and not competitive in male dominant transport sector. However things are changing, women are proving themselves as capable as men, if given the equal opportunities. Here in Nepal, women start driving public bus, tempos and taxis. The number is still very nominal. They are struggling a lot as they are competing to men drivers, existing social norms and their double role i.e responsibility care work and profession. I agree with you that if there would be promotional programme/ schemes (awareness, training, facilitating loan without collateral and with minimum interest) for women in transportation sector with gender lens, it would really help in women empowerment. 

Safecity- Elsa D'Silva
Jul 30, 2017
Jul 30, 2017

Hi Anjana,

Thank you so much for reading our blog and sharing your thoughts. It is heartening to hear that women are stepping forward in the transport sector in Nepal. We have to support each other and also be part of the decision-making forums in order to create promotional schemes.

Regards,

Safecity

Susan Obialo
Jul 27, 2017
Jul 27, 2017

Its good to know as you have rightly written that there is hope. I believe more and more women are beginning to fill the gender gap and making impact in technology so that innovations capture various perspectives.

I believe that we have a bg role to play which is to strongly encourage the upcoming generation to have more females in STEM. 

Safecity- Elsa D'Silva
Jul 31, 2017
Jul 31, 2017

Dear Susan,

Thank you for reading our article. Yes, there definitely are women who are breaking barriers are making their mark. To highlight these women we are running a campaign on Facebook called 'Women in Science". Do have a look at it and it would be great if you could recommend more women whom we can highlight in the campaign. 

Here is the campaign by Safecity and Godrej Salon-i- https://www.facebook.com/hashtag/womeninscience?source=feed_text&story_i...

Regards,

Safecity

leila Kigha
Jul 28, 2017
Jul 28, 2017

Wow. Great perspective 

Would have never looked at it through the gendered lens like you did. 

A very big role we have to play. 

Looking forward to reading more from you. 

Safecity- Elsa D'Silva
Jul 31, 2017
Jul 31, 2017

Hi Leila,

Thank you so much for reading our piece and your positive words of encouragement.

Regards,

Safecity