Transport systems advance social equity by providing access to jobs, goods and services, and fostering rural-urban linkages. Sustainable transport systems enable the efficient mobility of people and goods, with limited adverse environmental and social consequences. As the transport sector contributes to about 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, developing the sector sustainably remains a critical—and daunting—global development challenge.
However, transportation has become a gendered issue on many fronts. Building a sustainable and resilient transport future requires that the different mobility needs, preferences and patterns of men and women are taken into consideration to develop gender-responsive policies and implementation plans.
How are men’s and women’s mobility needs different? Mobility patterns and behaviors are often defined by gender roles—the social economic responsibilities and activities that a society constructs as appropriate. Men and women often travel by different modes, for different purposes, and at different times. Motorization is transforming lives and economies in the developing world, yet inequalities in access to vehicles and transport systems persist between men and women, particularly in rural areas. Transportation safety and security are additional factors that influence men and women’s transport preferences and patterns. In addition, women are often excluded from jobs in the sector, and the decision making in transportation planning and implementation. In the sections below, I outline some of the main gendered impediments to developing equitable, sustainable transportation systems.
Cost of Travel
Gender—coupled with socio-economic status and age—influences spatial patterns in travel. In both developed and developing countries, men’s travel patterns are often linear, with travel origins at the home and place of employment. Since women often take on a larger share of household responsibilities, they travel for a wider variety of purposes, such as to schools and daycares, markets and places of employment. This succession of trips within one trip is called “trip chaining.” Since women are more likely to trip chain, their spatial travel patterns are more polygonal then men’s.
With multiple stops, trip chaining is more expensive than linear travel patterns. On urban transport systems, establishing peak and off-peak time prices and selling passes for unlimited rides within a certain time constraint are two solutions that can potentially alleviate women’s travel costs.
Access to Vehicles
The effects of rapid increases in motorization levels present additional environmental and infrastructural challenges. Household vehicle ownership—from bicycles, to rickshaws, to mopeds, to cars—are valuable assets that boost households’ independence and movement. Disparities exist in vehicle ownership between genders. Generally, men in households are the first to motorize, and women have secondary access—if access at all—to vehicles. In the United Kingdom, approximately 15 percent of men do not have access to car, whereas 75 percent of women have no or restricted access. The United States is an exception: a larger share of drivers’ licenses are held by women, and women influence 80 percent of car purchasing decisions.
Safety is a critical element in making transportation systems sustainable. An individuals’ sense of safety and security on transport systems influences their mobility patterns and choices. The trends in safety and security are gendered in two distinct ways.
First, men are much more likely to be involved in road traffic incidents According to the World Health Organization, the total number of traffic deaths worldwide is 1.24 million annually. Since men are more likely than women to operate vehicles, they are more often the victims of road fatalities and injuries. Gender disaggregated data reveals that 77 percent of road traffic deaths involve men. Investing in safer infrastructure, such as widening roads or installing guardrails, can curb deaths by traffic accidents. Enacting and enforcing laws against speeding, drunk driving, and not wearing seatbelts/helmets are interventions aimed to change risky road behaviors.
For women, fears of personal security on transport systems influences their transportation use and patterns. Women may travel less at night and take less efficient and more expensive routes, if deemed safer. Women are vulnerable to harassment and violence on transportation systems in both the developing and developed world. The horrific gang rape and murder of a young woman in New Delhi, India provoked worldwide outrage and discussions of women’s security on public transit. The findings of a recent survey in France reveal that 100 percent of females that use the metro system in Paris have experienced sexual harassment on the metro at some point in their lives. Interventions that ameliorate women’s security on transport systems—but do not address the root cause of gendered violence and harassment—include women’s-only passenger cars such as in transit systems in Japan, India, Iran and Brazil.
Transportation contributes to economic growth, but it is itself a burgeoning economy. For example, with 1.4 million employees, India Railways is one of India’s—and the world’s—largest commercial employers. However, jobs in the transport sector are often male dominated. Efforts to ameliorate this gap have been somewhat successfully. Transmileno, Bogotá, Colombia’s mass transit system, prioritizes directly employing women. By 2009, women were 25 percent of the system’s total workforce, with 62 percent of the women employed identifying as single mothers. Transport equity requires the participation of both men and women in transport decision making and employment.
In much of the developing world, a lack of access to adequate, efficient and affordable transport affects health outcomes. An absence of quality and affordable systems to transport women to healthcare centers is one of the main drivers for Tanzania’s high maternal mortality rates. The burden of resource collection falls disproportionately on women, and when women have to walk great distances to gather resources, their personal health and security is jeopardized.
Policy Opportunities for Improving Transit
Without efficient and affordable transportation to complete household responsibilities, women often have little time for additional income generation activities, education or leisure. In the context of sustainable development, Goal 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) acknowledges safety in transportation as a target element to achieve the SDGs. Last month, the United Nations met to define their post-2015 development agenda at the Sustainable Development Summit in New York City. In the implementation of the Goal 11, it is critical that the design of sustainable transport systems is gender-responsive, meaning that that transport systems take into account the different preferences and behaviors of men and women. Ignoring the gendered dimensions of transport will continue to exacerbate transportation in equity and limit the inclusion of men and women in today’s economy and society.
Photo credit: Jens Schott Knudsen via Flickr