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When good transport alone doesn’t bring jobs closer to women: insights from Mexico City

Karla Dominguez Gonzalez's picture
An affordable, safe, and good-quality transport system brings social and economic value to everyone, and is key to increasing access to services and opportunities. But is it enough to bring women closer to jobs?

A World Bank study in Argentina highlighted that women “have more complex travel patterns, travel more, and have more travel needs at off-peak hours, which are often not related to work and associated with fixed destinations (e.g. child care).” As a result, they are constrained to smaller commutes and, by association, fewer employment opportunities. In addition to using public transport at different times, frequencies, and for alternate purposes, data from other countries also indicates that many women face significant security challenges when using public transport.

To dig deeper on this and identify what kind of complementary interventions could help ensure mass transit investments bring women the best accessibility benefits, we conducted preliminary research in Mexico City with support from the World Bank Youth Innovation Fund.

Our primary objective was to figure out what encourages or inhibits women’s use of mass transit systems, and to understand how these systems influence their decisions to find employment or better employment.

We organized interviews with two distinct groups:
  • Women who lived on the outskirts of Mexico City but worked in the city center, commuting at least an hour [each way] to cover the long distances between their homes and their jobs

  • Women of similar ages, skill and educational levels who lived and worked near their homes in the peripheral community of Tláhuac
Though more rigorous analysis is needed to confirm the results of our exploratory work, some clear priorities emerged from our interactions with the women of Mexico City – priorities that seem consistent with the broader knowledge base on gender issues:
  1. Empower women in the poorest areas to become more comfortable with the transit system. When engaging with women in Tláhuac, we quickly realized that fear of the unknown and lack of information was a big hurdle to using mass transit and accessing employment opportunities. This could be addressed, in part, through outreach programs regarding cost, scope, and safety, as well as through programs that would enable women to assert greater control in their lives and have an impact on the transport system (e.g. grievance redress mechanisms, safety and quality service feedback loops). One inspiring example is the Bike An Jo program in Sao Paulo, where voluntary cyclists accompany new cyclists to find a route, get information about the traffic, and move around the city.

  2. Raise awareness of job opportunities. Many women we spoke with were not fully informed of the employment opportunities available downtown, or did not know how to avail of them. Employment information campaigns, career services, and training programs could go a long way in bridging this skills and information gap, and would certainly inspire more women to pursue higher-paying jobs downtown.

  3. Make childcare readily available. The women in our Tláhuac focus group had an average of three children, and frequently mentioned the lack of child care services as one of the main factors forcing them to work from home or nearby. In light of this, readily available childcare services is essential to freeing up women’s time to access jobs—a finding that was also highlighted by the World Bank in its new Gender Strategy. In addition, interventions that engage fathers in good parenting have also shown good results to equilibrate household responsibilities (Chile Empapate).

  4. Improve security throughout the public transit system. When it comes to personal security, transport systems in Mexico rank as the second most dangerous in the world. Female commuters are disproportionately affected; in fact, data shows 50% of women have been victims of sexual harassment in public transport. For women in Tláhuac, for instance, riding transit to the city center—where they make on average three times as much—also means exposing themselves to the very real risk of assault or robbery. This trade-off between economic opportunity and personal security is simply unacceptable.
These preliminary findings make it clear that, if we’re serious about minimizing the barriers to female employment, safe, affordable, and high-quality public transport needs to be accompanied by a number of support systems. That includes addressing issues like personal security, social and gender norms, awareness of services, and the belief in one’s own capacity to succeed. We are looking forward to deepening our work on these issues through our projects where we will be analyzing women’s mobility in Latin American and African cities.

In your own country, what opportunities or challenges do women face on their commute to work?