Does separating women on public transport tackle the wider problem of sexual harassment and assault, or does it merely move the problem around? How can governments combat sexual harassment on public transport without segregating transport by gender? Does the employment of women in the sector contribute to designing better solutions to improve women’s personal security in public transport and enhance their mobility? Experts on both sides of the issue debated these and other questions at a recent event on “Women as Transport Users and Transport Services Providers – What Works and What Doesn’t” hosted by the World Bank’s transport team. Data reveals that while a significant share of women all over the world experience sexual harassment on public transport, often in pandemic proportions, the majority of cases goes unreported.
The session was conceived to explore development implications of women-only transport; highlight why laws matter for women in the transport sector; and better prepare World Bank staff to discuss these two topics with their respective clients.
The women-only transport concept regularly catches the media’s attention and has been debated before. Those who favor providing women with the option of gender segregated transport say it provides much-needed safety for women and facilitates their access to income-earning opportunities and various services. Those against segregation say it further reinforces gender inequalities and entrenches sexist attitudes.
Zero Discrimination Day (March 1) comes this year at an opportune moment.
The global discourse is abuzz with conversations around discrimination and its impacts on those who have experienced it. In fact, in some ways the #MeToo movement is an assertion against a form of discrimination, as are other movements of groups that have historically been oppressed. They are sometimes minorities based on race, but often, as in the case of the movement against sexual harassment and assault, they may well be members of half the population.
So, to mark this day, we talk about a related issue – exclusion, especially social exclusion. We could well debate the conceptual relationship between the ideas of exclusion and discrimination, but this is not the forum for that debate. Here is a paper that specifically addresses discrimination.
This is the moment to remind ourselves who would be most likely to be excluded, stigmatized, and discriminated against. A number of people could be at risk, but we find that social identity is usually a potent driver. Individuals and groups who are disadvantaged on the basis of their identity are at greatest risk of exclusion, but probably also of discrimination. We have talked about at length about this in our 2013 report “Inclusion Matters,” including the processes that underpin exclusion and discrimination.
Watch our video blog and tell us in a comment how we can ensure development projects are truly inclusive.
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 while using public transport. 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.
Good policy starts with good data, which is why the work of Together for Girls (TfG) begins with nationally representative Violence Against Children Surveys (VACS), led by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of the TfG partnership. The VACS generate data on prevalence and incidence of physical, sexual, and emotional violence as well as risk and protective factors, consequences of violence, and access to services. VACS have generated data for almost 10% of the world’s youth population (aged 13–24). VACS data catalyzes and informs national action to prevent and respond to violence. With strong data to guide the way, national governments lead the development and implementation of a comprehensive multi-sector policy and programmatic response to violence against children (VAC).
Community leaders discuss systems of violence prevention in the community of San Juan de Floresta in Loreto, Peru. Photo credit: G Shannon, DB Peru
In the Peruvian Amazon, the Lower Napo River communities that we are working with for the upcoming GBV in the Amazon of Peru (GAP) Project are negotiating a transition to modernity, where increasing access to transport, telecommunication and media has meant that communal life is changing. This has coincided with increasing concerns about gender violence: recent figures from Mazan, a remote township on the Lower Napo River, show that 79% of women between the ages of 18 and 29 report experiencing sexual violence at some point in their life.
Young women, some still girls, await long-haul truck drivers that stop by a gas station in the State of Tocantins, located in the North region of Brazil. Here, impoverished women and girls look to get extra cash in exchange for sex, a phenomenon seen on a daily basis in small towns along the federal highway BR-153. The high dropout rate of girls and gender-based violence are commonplace there. While better road infrastructure brings more economic opportunities to the region, higher road traffic and activity can also increase social risks like gender-based violence.
A World Bank’s multisectoral project in Tocantins seeks to improve efficiency of road transport, in particular, state and rural road network, and to support institutional strengthening in the following five sectors: public administration, agriculture, tourism, environment, and education. While the project does not include any roadwork specifically on the highway BR-153, it aims at reducing existing risk of gender-based violence along the highway as part of the education component of the project.
Schools play an important role in building respectful relations between girls and boys, challenging gender-based stereotypes and combatting discrimination that contributes to violence against women and girls. Accordingly, based on the level of the dropout rate and violence statistics, six high schools along BR-153 were selected to host a pilot initiative to improve awareness of gender-based violence and in the area.
You are young, poor, living in a remote rural area, and one day your whole life is turned upside down by a sexual assault. No matter whether the offender is your partner or spouse, another family member, a teacher, a co-worker or a stranger, you will need to make choices.
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.
The 16 Days of Activism campaign also allows us to reflect on the important role of research in activism. Without rigorous research, activism against gender-based violence may be misguided or misaligned with individual or community perceptions and needs.
What is meant by rigorous research?
Rigorous research has been defined as research that applies the appropriate research tools to investigate a set of stated objectives. While some researchers may argue that quantitative research methodologies generate more rigorous data, using this definition we can see that qualitative research methodologies can also generate rigorous data to inform programming, policy and activism.
Our project, funded by the World Bank Group and Sexual Violence Research Initiative Development Marketplace for Innovations to Prevent Gender-Based Violence, aims to do just that—generate rigorous data using qualitative research methodologies to better understand the gender, social, and cultural norms that contribute to intimate partner violence among Syrian refugees. Women and Health Alliance (WAHA) International in collaboration with academic and organizational partners in Turkey and Greece will collect data using focus group discussions and participatory action learning activities in order to inform future interventions targeting intimate partner violence among displaced populations.
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is the most pervasive form of violence globally—with 1 in 3 women physically or sexually abused by a partner in her lifetime. Despite knowing a lot about prevalence and detrimental impacts of IPV, we are still at the infancy of knowing what works to prevent violence. Recently, development economists have begun exploring the potential of anti-poverty programming, including cash transfers. Cash transfers are a widely used policy tool for decreasing poverty and improving human capital, reaching up to 1 billion people across Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Cash is often given directly to women, thus potentially changing power dynamics within the household. Their scale and reach to the most vulnerable populations have led many to ask, "If cash can change household well-being and power dynamics within households, can cash transfers also be used to decrease IPV?"
Recent studies from Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa have shown that several cash transfer programs have decreased physical violence against women.A mixed methods study in Ecuador found that key factors there were decreases in poverty-related stress (leading to less tension and fewer arguments over women needing to ask men for money to buy food) and increases in women’s empowerment due to being targeted (which improved their bargaining power in the household, self-confidence, and freedom of movement). However there is still a lot we do not know. For example, many cash transfer programs—including those in the existing studies—combine transfers with other components, such as nutrition trainings and conditions related to education and health, which may affect women’s social or human capital distinctly from the transfers. So far, no study has been able to disentangle the impacts of cash versus the other components on IPV.
Moreover, the evidence to date on cash transfers and IPV has come from limited contexts. Given that the effects on IPV may depend on gender norms that vary by context, we need to collect evidence from other regions before concluding that transfers can reduce IPV globally. Importantly, we still do not know enough about whether in specific contexts or sub-groups, women might actually be put in danger from receiving cash, due to men utilizing IPV as a method to extract the cash or due to male backlash if men use IPV to re-assert their authority after a shift in power dynamics.
Our ongoing Bangladesh study with co-authors John Hoddinott and Akhter Ahmed, recently awarded funding from the World Bank Group and the Sexual Violence Research Initiative, will help to fill some of these knowledge gaps. First, the intervention has both transfer-only arms and combined transfer-and-child-nutrition-training arms. Since the intervention arms are assigned randomly, we can disentangle whether a transfer is enough for impacts on IPV or whether adding training is really necessary. Second, the study comes from a context where IPV is very high—about 53-62 percent of women in Bangladesh report experiencing it in their lifetimes – and where gender norms are very different from Latin America or Sub-Saharan Africa. For example, female seclusion (women staying inside the home) is a strong sociocultural norm in rural South Asia. This could limit how much power dynamics shift when transfers are given to women, since women may have restricted mobility to use the transfers independently; on the other hand, it could increase the benefits of trainings for women, since trainings provide rare opportunities to leave the home and build social capital. Patriarchal norms in Bangladesh could also plausibly contribute to backlash if large transfers to women subvert traditional power dynamics.