Overcoming barriers to women’s mobility – WomenMobilizeWomen
Cities are growing at an unprecedented rate, around 55% of the world population is living in urban areas which will further increase to 68% by the year 2050 (United Nations, 2018). Every week more than one million people migrate to urban areas which increases the demand for existing transportation systems (Shin-Pei Tsay, 2013). This drastic increase impacts sustainable development and reduces equity of residents for transportation facilities on varying levels. Access to public transportation provides ample mobility options to the residents and can easily commute within different areas with safety and ease.
Productive and sustainable cities need modern mobility systems able to transport increasing numbers of people whilst doing the least possible damage to the natural environment (Shannon Bouton, 2016). It increases the visitor’s pressure on the available transportation opportunities and impacts infrastructure and quality of life. Subsidizing quality public transport is not a bad bargain for sustainable cities. The availability of affordable and decent public transport has many advantages; it enables people to improve their lives by accessing markets, employment, healthcare, and education (Naqvi, 2021). It has a beneficial effect on people’s productivity, and the environment as well. Urban mobility is an essential element of safe public transportation which enhances resident’s satisfaction and promotes sustainable living by improving services and prosperity of residents.
Mobility and Sustainable Development Goals
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 aims to provide access to safe, affordable, accessible, and sustainable transport systems for every resident, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transportation. It focuses on giving special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities, and older persons (Josephine Kaviti Musango, 2020). Through the provision and implementation of these goals, equity can be achieved which is an essential element in planning. Various factors like age, gender, income, and disability should be considered in policy-making for the provision of access to public transportation (Rodrigue, 2020). Gender differences in travelling behavior are due to unequal access to public transportation and attitudes towards various means of transport. They can also be explained by men’s and women’s differing activity patterns and responsibilities as well as by gender role attitudes (Noack, 2011).
Efficient mobility systems reduce congestion, accidents, noise, pollution, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions thanks to transit avoided carbon, at the same time facilitating access to education, jobs, markets, and a range of other essential services to ensure that ‘no one is left behind’ (Turner & Ciambra, 2019). Accordingly, it can be argued that at least seven SDGs are linked to mobility, either explicitly through transport-related targets, or via cross-cutting dimensions of sustainable transport in urban and territorial policies.
The new Urban Agenda sits within a framework of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and 169 detailed component targets, which provide a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. There are several targets directly linked with investing in more walking and public transport, most notably SDG 11.2 (Sustainable Transport for All) which states: “By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons”.
Inequalities generated due to unequal access to transport systems are a subject studied in several high-income cities. Several studies have shown how differences in access can generate disparities between different social classes, however, these differences have not been studied in the same way for gender inequities. In general, accessibility and transport planning have not been sensitive to subjects such as gender, age, disability, and ethnicity (Lecompte & S., 2107). Sustainable Development Goal 5 concerns gender equality and is fifth of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations in 2015. The official wording of SDG 5 is “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” (Nations, 2017).
Women face more difficulties and challenges in the context of mobility. They constitute about 51 percent of the total population, and about 22.7 percent of labor force against men’s 83.3% (Noor Rahman, 2021). Travel patterns of women and their participation in activities derive from gender roles that remain traditional. Equity and women empowerment has been set by the United Nations as unique goals on the 2030 global agenda for sustainable development. SDG 5 highlights the importance of gender equality and empowering women by ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls that impacts all the development areas (UN, 2016).
The higher risk of violence also reflects gender-based inequalities. Women in this regard face many issues due to a lack of government attention towards the proper provision of public transportation along with other feeder buses. Lack of proper segregation in buses ultimately increases women’s violence due to the lack of provision of rights. The concern for women’s safety in public transportation is important to prevent sexual harassment and the fear of violence that prevents women and girls from accessing opportunities for work, study, and leisure.
Literature Review on Women Mobility
In several countries (Japan, Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, India, Belarus, Philippines), vehicles reserved for “women only” have been introduced to combat sexual harassment. In the light underground railway in Manila, for example, the first two carriages are reserved exclusively for women and children; in Mexico, buses and metro carriages reserved especially for women have been added during rush hours, with the Police responsible for ensuring that the separation of men from women is properly respected (Duchène, 2011). There are also taxis reserved for women in the United Kingdom, Mexico, Russia, India, Dubai, and Iran.
In developed countries, comparative travel studies of men and women tend to show converging patterns of behavior. However, differences remain because women have far more complex programs of activity. In both North America and Europe, for example, women make more trips, and in more complex chains, than those made by men, notably because they undertake more non-work-related trips.
In Europe, women are more dependent than men on public transport networks, of which they make greater use. In France, for example, men only use public transport for 10% of their trips, and two-thirds of passengers on public transport networks are women (Duchène, 2011). In Sweden, we find the same proportion of women using public transport. However, it is worth noting that passenger numbers on high-speed public transport networks (suburban trains, underground trains, trams) are equally divided between men and women (Polk, 2010).
Women mobility in Pakistan
Women’s mobility outside the home in Pakistan is restricted by social norms and safety concerns. In particular, social norms against women coming into close contact with unrelated men and the discomfort, social stigma, and fear of harassment when they do so, limit women’s movement and their use of public transport. This constrains their choices to participate in the labor force, continue their education, or engage in other independent activities (Adeel, 2020). This challenge is particularly important for women of a marginalized social status who are less able to afford private transport.
The government has attempted to address women’s concerns through transport policy. However, challenges remain for women’s safety and comfort on public transport. To ensure that public transport is equally accessible for both men and women, it is critical to develop a comprehensive policy package that holistically addresses the constraints and challenges that women face (Sajad, 2018).
Challenges for women
There are striking differences between men’s and women’s access to and experience of public transport in Pakistan. Although women travel less frequently, as a proportion of non-walking trips, they are more likely than men to travel on public transport. When traveling beyond walking distance, women in Lahore are almost 30% more likely than men to use public transport such as buses or wagons. This is in part because other options, such as riding independently on a motorbike or bicycle (common transport modes for men), are taboo for women: Men are 70% more likely than women to travel in these private transport modes (Nisar, 2020).
But travel on public transport presents significant challenges for women because of concerns about safety, harassment, and social stigma. Most males say they strongly discourage their female family members from riding some modes of transport, such as wagons. Many women do not feel safe on any available transport mode, especially at night. This is likely part of the reason why women who do not have a choice of private transport choose, if possible, to ride on alternative modes.
Major challenges were harassment at stations and in buses (younger users being more affected), limited facilities for the elderly, lack of seating/waiting facilities near entrances/exits of BRT stations, and limited dedicated space in buses and ticketing booths during rush hours (Majid, 2019).
Overcoming Barriers and Strategies
Poorly considered land-use zoning policy separates residential areas from employment locations, with a greater impact on women’s mobility. Women make more complex journeys than men, often travelling to childcare, school, work, and shops. More than twice as many women as men are responsible for escorting children to school. Poor public transport and lack of caring facilities and shopping outlets near employment locations restrict women’s access to the labor market. Women feel less safe than men being out alone after dark, especially in the inner city, or social housing complexes.
Consequently, it is important that public transportation schedules are updated often and visible to the general public so that women can plan their travel accordingly. Another viable strategy for improving female mobility and security is the hiring of female bus conductors and ticket checkers/collectors. Awareness-raising and training for staff gender and transport, recruitment, training, and promotion of women in all aspects of transport should be adapted.
Furthermore, participation of female and male transport users of all ages in project design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation is necessary. Regular maintenance of bus stops for the purpose of providing ease to the users waiting at bus stops. (Improved bus shelters, upgraded transit terminals and space surrounding those terminals, ensuring a comfortable transit experience from journey start to end, including in waiting areas). Digital solutions such as distribution of women safety smartphone applications and monitoring app for route tracking and arrival time of buses are highly recommended to improve women safety while travelling.
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Plnr. Maddia Yaseen
Member of Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners
Bachelor of City & Regional Planning, Lahore College for Women University
Licensed Urban Planner at Sheher Saaz