Transport is not gender-neutral. This was the key message that came out of a high-level gender discussion co-hosted by the World Bank and the World Resources Institute during the recent Transforming Transportation 2018 conference, which was held in Washington DC between January 11-12, 2018. This was the first time in the 15-year history of this annual event that a plenary session looked specifically at the gender dimensions of transport.
Women represent the largest share of public transport users around the world, yet they face many barriers that limit their mobility. The numbers speak for themselves. Some 80% of women are afraid of being harassed in public spaces. In developing countries, safety concerns and limited access to transport reducing the probability of women participating in the labor market by 16.5%, with serious consequences on the economy: the global GDP could grow by an additional $5.8 trillion if the gender gap in male and female labor force participation is decreased by 25% by 2025 (International Labour Organization). Women and men have different mobility needs and patterns, yet transport policies for most countries remain unrelentingly gender-blind.
Female participation in the transport sector—as operators, drivers, engineers, and leaders—remains low. According to Harvard Business Review, “women make up 20% of engineering graduates, but nearly 40% of them either quit or never enter the profession.” As a result, the transport industry remains heavily male-dominated, which only makes it harder for women service users to make themselves heard, and limits incentives for the sector to become more inclusive.
The gender plenary at Transforming Transportation brought together five women and two men on the panel to discuss these issues and highlight practical solutions used in their work to ensure inclusive transport.
Moderator Mary Crass, Head of Institutional Relations and Summit at the International Transport Forum (ITF) kicked off the discussion by highlighting the importance of gender in understanding how transport systems are used. Findings reveal that, when users have to decide which mode of transport to use (private car, public transport, cycling, walking, etc.), gender is often a more robust determinant than age or income.
The discussion also highlighted the growing role of women as mobility providers. Olurinu Jose, a former executive at the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), stated that gender balance in Nigeria is “not just a moral imperative but there is also a business case around it.” In Lagos (Nigeria), women were recruited as drivers for a high-capacity Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT). Over the last two years, these women have built a strong track record of safety and professionalism, prompting LAMATA to aim for full gender parity among its bus drivers in the future.
“You have to call it out, you have to say it matters, you have to start taking action, and then you have to track it,” said Lilli Matson, Director of Transport Strategy, Transport for London (TfL). Transport for London has taken many initiatives to ensure a more balanced workforce including making recruitment gender blind, offering apprenticeship programs, and providing mentorship to women. Recently they have changed the composition of their board to make it gender-balanced.
Building infrastructure must not risk the wellbeing of local communities, noted Kathy Sierra, Senior Fellow in Global Economy and Development at Brookings, indicating that violence against women and children is not just a World Bank or a transport-specific problem. These issues require a comprehensive approach and should involve the communities, local NGOs, construction companies, governments, and international agencies.
Juan Jose Mendez, Transport Secretary for the city of Buenos Aires, highlighted that women’s mobility patterns are more diverse than men. For example, more than 2/3 of trips made by men are for work, compared to only 1/2 of trips made by women. In contrast, almost 1/3 of trips made by women are for household chores while only 1/8 of men’s trips relate to household responsibilities. Building on this data, Bueno Aires is now designing public transport options that are gender inclusive.
An honoree of Vital Voices' Global Leadership Award Program, Elsa Marie D’Silva honed in on the issue of gender-based violence in transport. As the Founder and CEO of The Red Dot Foundation (Safecity), D’Silva described how her organization leveraged crowdsourcing to create a heatmap of the riskiest areas for women living in Indian cities, allowing them to measure the full extent of the phenomenon. Strikingly, more than ½ of the reports by women related to them feeling unsafe in transport. Safety considerations are often cited by families for limiting women’s mobility. This in turn limits their access to opportunities (including education and jobs) and can have repercussions for women’s long term wellbeing. “Sexual violence must be treated as a development challenge” to find a long-term solution.
Mohamed Mezghani, Secretary General of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) underscored the linkage between women as transport users and as providers. Within the EU only 17.5% of urban public transport employees are women, and the proportion is even lower when looking at decision-making roles. An increasing share of women working in transport would increase the pool of talent, and improve the sector’s ability to provide connectivity to all users.
The conversation is not new, yet the plenary was a real breakthrough in that it brought together all the key players who have a stake in this: governments, civil society, operators, private companies, international organizations, and thought leaders. A critical mass of organization have formed a gender working group under the Sustainable Mobility for All initiative to develop a roadmap of action to transform the mobility of women. For all of us who work in the sector, empowering women both as transport users and transport providers is at the core of our mission: we simply won’t achieve sustainable mobility for all if we leave behind 50% of the population.