How to amplify awareness and build capacity for women-friendly public transport?

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Bus passengers in India. Photo: Aashim Tyagi/WRI India
Bus passengers in India. Photo: Aashim Tyagi/WRI India

Evidence from around the world shows there are many barriers that undermine women’s access to public transport. Overall, mass transit infrastructure, services, and fare policies rarely take into consideration the specific mobility needs of women, whose travel patterns can differ significantly from men. Personal safety is another major concern: across Indian cities, for instance, 50-70% of women reported they avoid using public transport due to fear of harassment.

Addressing this will require close collaboration among many different types of partners and stakeholders, but it all starts with one key group: the workers and decision makers in charge of designing, implementing, and operating public transport systems every day.

This includes bus drivers, conductors, ticketing staff, security guards—the frontline workers who keep public transport and public spaces working, and are in the best position to help women commuters. Cities need workers who intervene when women are harassed and who do not harass women themselves. They must be trained to respond to the needs of women and LGBT+ persons.

Likewise, public transport officials and civic agencies also need to be aware of the differences in mobility needs between men and women—and adapt transport infrastructure and services accordingly. For instance, in India, women are more likely to travel at off-peak hours, keep within a limited area, travel with children and dependents, and make several short trips to complete household chores, as outlined in our policy brief on Making public transport and urban spaces safer and inclusive for women.


Unravelling gender bias

A major challenge is that city staff are from the same society that produces gender biases. There are many conscious and unconscious biases that must be unlearned.

It’s important to address the issue on two fronts. First, build the capacity of officials to formulate policies for safer, women-friendly transport. Second, drive a long-term shift in mindsets at both the individual and community levels.

Cities such as Marrakesh deployed this type of two-pronged strategy under the Marrakesh: Safe and Friendly City for All program between 2012 to 2017. The program engaged people from all parts of society, from city officials to transport workers and media professionals. It encouraged them to understand where and how women felt the most vulnerable, who the perpetrators were, and what kind of interventions would be most effective. In addition, there was awareness-building around sexual harassment for1,500 taxi drivers and bus drivers.


The need for more training

Public transport authorities, urban local bodies and other civic agencies can draw up regular capacity-building plans for duty bearers (such as senior management, administrative officials) and frontline workers. These must be based on a baseline assessment of gender biases and technical capacity. Providing these trainings in local languages would also make them more impactful.

Officials need training and additional capacity building to create women-friendly designs for streets, stations and vehicles. Frontline workers need to be trained in handling safety situations, such as how to intervene when women are sexually harassed on buses.

To help governments take action, we recently released a new toolkit that highlights some of the key interventions needed to make public transport more women-friendly, including building capacity and raising awareness. While the toolkit focuses on the case of India, it includes many essential lessons that can be readily applied in other countries. Click here to read about interventions which are foundational for shifting mindsets and driving long-term change.


Case studies in India

Cities across India (including Delhi, Pune and Gurugram) have undertaken gender sensitization trainings for bus drivers and frontline workers.

The Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC), which manages public bus operations in Delhi, has been partnering with several community-based organizations such as Jagori and Manas Foundation to provide annual trainings, with the objective of familiarizing workers with the safety challenges that female commuters may face, and giving them practical guidance on how to intervene. Some of these trainings are now essential for renewing a driving license. DTC staff can also download a mobile application called “Safe Gaadi” (“Safe Vehicle”) which provides training content for gender sensitization of frontline workers in the form of incentive-based games and quizzes. The engaging and interactive format helps retain the drivers’ interest and ensure they keep taking the trainings.  

India’s breakthrough Dakhal Do (“Intervene”) campaign inspired people to denounce acts of violence against women and girls in public and private spaces. The message was amplified by a Bollywood celebrity, contests on popular radio channels, and social media challenges.  It reached millions.


Next steps

Most civic authorities in India invest into regular capacity building for their staff. Integrating gender into these programs could go a long way in creating women-friendly public transport and improving the overall experience of female commuters. For optimal results, it is best to put in place multi-year plans which include annual trainings and continuous capacity building, focusing on gender sensitization for all staff, supplemented with targeted technical training on (i) gender-informed design of urban mobility infrastructure, and (ii) gender sensitive urban planning of public spaces.

It is equally important to shift community mindsets through sustained mass and social media campaigns to change behaviors and recognize women’s rights. The campaigns may also focus on informing women about helplines, complaint mechanisms, and redressal systems.

City officials, public transport authorities, and implementing agencies may not have direct connections with users. In such a scenario, partnerships with civil society organizations (CSOs) can help in outreach to commuters across different sections of society, so that duty bearers, and frontline workers can get direct feedback from their most vulnerable users, including women and LGBT+ persons.


Learn more:


Sarah Natasha

Consultant, Transport, SAR

Gerald Ollivier

Lead Transport Specialist, India

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