Also available in: العربيةWomen’s economic equality is good for business. It is clear that women play a fundamental role in building and sustaining the world economy.
They offer a powerful source of economic growth and opportunity. Women contribute not only to the formal economy, but also through the valuable and generally unpaid tasks of caregiving and homemaking. It has been proven that better opportunities in education, health, employment, and policies lead to better well being for women, their communities and — in turn — the economic and social well-being of a country.
However, only recently has the relationship of gender and infrastructure — more specifically, transport — and the role it plays in a country’s social and economic well-being been addressed.
Transport networks are one of the most important elements of a country’s infrastructure, and they are key to reducing poverty and promoting equality. A country’s transport infrastructure generally centers on enabling the supply of goods, connecting and providing access to people, services and trade, with the objective of bringing economic prosperity to a nation. However, it has been only in the past five to ten years that infrastructure projects have started to include gender awareness as part of their investment decisions.
As women become even more central to a country’s economy, addressing their transportation needs takes on an essential role in promoting economic growth and prosperity.
But what is so different about women and men’s transportation needs and patterns? Both men and women use transportation as an instrument for accessing economic opportunities. However, in addition to accessing the labor market, women use transportation as a way to take care of their households and families.
Transport investments that are designed with consideration to gender dimensions can bring significant benefits not only to women in terms of increased access to employment, markets, education and health services, but also to the caretaking and household responsibilities that the majority of women hold, ultimately contributing to the wellbeing of the community at large. Transport projects and services should also include in their design the gender perspective in terms of travel needs, patterns, concerns, priorities, preferences, and personal safety parameters.
Over the past years, the World Bank Group has made important steps towards ensuring mainstreaming gender in their operations. In the transport sector, the development of gender mainstreaming tools such as trainings, guidelines, checklists, and publications such as “Mainstreaming Gender in Road Transport: Operational Guidance for World Bank Staff” and “Social Development & Infrastructure” provide staff with information and tools to incorporate gender-related issues in their transport projects. However, much more can be done in this area and the use of innovative strategies can prove to be valuable additions in this important endeavor.
Some suggestions to include in the process of gender mainstreaming in transport beyond the currently utilized and previously mentioned tools include:
- Multidisciplinary teams: If gender is to be addressed successfully in transport projects, the establishment of a multidisciplinary team is essential. A team that, since the planning stages, includes collaboration of engineers with sociologists, economists and anthropologists will be able to provide a better representation of both the infrastructure, social and economic needs of the individual and community.
- Impact evaluations: Assessing the outcome of interventions and investments generates data on the effectiveness of projects. The results of impact evaluations can provide examples of project design and execution that address gender mainstreaming in transport, with the possibility of scaling successful interventions and solutions. Furthermore, it is important to note that while the traditional research methods used for impact evaluations have been mainly quantitative methods, a more complete picture of the results can be presented by utilizing mixed methods. The joint use of quantitative and qualitative methods provides an important component in understanding the core underlying issues, and capturing the complexities and dynamics of the project or intervention.
- Learning from failure: “The wisdom of learning from failure is incontrovertible. Yet organizations that do it well are extraordinarily rare.” The organizational culture of success is strongly engrained within the Bank: the more successful a project, the more positive recognition; failure of a project many times is seen as shameful. However, a fresh way in which innovative corporations and institutions are assessing their performance and outcomes is by identifying and learning from their failures. Failure should be discussed and assessed as an important tool for reflection and learning, thus becoming an important component of institutional learning. In this way, the World Bank can move to encourage and adopt a more innovative approach in its knowledge strategy.
- Cross-regional and cross-sectoral collaboration/ knowledge sharing: The exchange of ideas and experiences between regions and sectors strengthens the capacity to interpret the knowledge and projects within the context of their own local circumstances. Additionally, it provides ideas to adapt those lessons that are locally relevant.
A recurring topic in the consultations has been the issue of gender barriers to transport, and lack of mobility as a major constraint for women’s access to the job market. Given the critical role that women play in the economic development of a country, and the function that transport plays in the mobility of women, gender mainstreaming in transport is essential to international development.
As the World Bank moves into a new gender strategy and a new institutional strategy guided by the two main goals of ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity, new challenges also emerge. The challenge of delivering long-term, strong, sustainable, and equitable economic growth can only be met if all available resources — social and economic — are used to their full extent. In order to have more equitable transport infrastructure and policies, the World Bank has to develop and partake in an innovative way of looking at and doing things, along with the change in perspective from a focus on infrastructure itself to the needs, individual and community, of those who utilize transport systems.
 Edmondson, A. Strategies for Learning from Failure. Harvard Business Review. 2011