“We women stay together, otherwise it’s scary”: Enhancing women’s mobility and access to opportunity

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Mural painting of a young woman in Brazil.

Maria is a single mother who lives at the top of the Tavares Bastos favela in Rio de Janeiro. She has the best view of the city: from her window, she can see Rio’s world-famous beaches, its picturesque mountains, as well as some of the city’s liveliest neighborhoods, filled with many job opportunities.

But “getting down” to find employment in the central parts of town can be challenging, and keeping a job can be even harder. Many of the positions available involve long hours and night shifts. She thinks of the possible problems she could face. Her family doesn’t live around, so who would pick up her daughter from school? She could ask her boyfriend to help, but he is not supportive of her working full time; he would be jealous. Then there is the daily commute. She would make two trips each way, and pay a separate fare for each one of them: she would first have to make her way down the hill, and then catch another form of transport to get to the city center. Some employers in the city do provide commuter benefits, but what if her boss only wanted to pay for one trip segment, like most of them? If she came home late, the local minibuses wouldn’t be running anymore. She could walk up the hill, but the road is steep and dark. Maybe she could take a moto-taxi, but what if the driver tries to take advantage of her? She doesn’t feel safe. She decides that getting an informal part-time job close to her home makes more sense than getting one with better benefits in the city.

Maria’s dilemma illustrates the mobility and accessibility challenges faced by many low-income women in Latin America, which is the focus of our latest publication, Why does she move? A study on women’s mobility in Latin American cities. Our objective was to understand what influences women’s mobility choices and their ability to access jobs. We wanted to get the full picture, which is why we considered not only transport elements (safety, availability, affordability, etc.) but also factored in characteristics of the community (e.g. infrastructure, insecurity), gender social norms, individual internal characteristics (one’s belief of changing things) and, most importantly, looked at how all these factors interacted to shape women’s mobility.


An overview of the various factors that may affect women's mobility choices.
An overview of the various factors that may affect women's mobility choices.


To achieve this, we had to step away from traditional instruments such as origin-destination surveys—their scope is simply too broad. Instead, we had to develop a qualitative methodology that allowed us to look at the issue with a magnifying glass and collect much more granular information about low-income women and their specific mobility constraints.

Here are some of the key lessons we’ve learned:

  • Women’s mobility choices are influenced by a host of factors, some of which have little to do with transport itself. In particular, gender norms and social constraints play a significant role.

  • Women prioritize personal safety over transport affordability. To cover the last mile between mass transit stops and their homes, the women in this research reported they were willing to use more expensive modes like ride-hailing apps or shared taxis, because they perceived those forms of transport to be safer. Some can afford them, others cannot... But in both cases, the situation is wrong: women who have the resources to pay more for safer transport are effectively charged a “pink tax,” while their poorer counterparts have to choose between using potentially unsafe modes or renouncing travel and job opportunities altogether.

  • When it comes to jobs, women value proximity over quality. Traditional gender roles are still very much present in the communities covered by our research: household chores and child care fall largely on women, regardless of whether they are employed. In other words, women have many activities and little time to juggle them all. This means they are often inclined to take jobs closer to home, especially when they don’t have access to efficient public transport or can’t rely on strong social networks to make up for the lack of affordable child care options.


Based on these findings, the report provides a variety of practical recommendations for improving women’s mobility. Some of these are directly related to the transport sector, such as the implementation of free or discounted transfers on mass transit. But we also emphasize the need for solutions in areas other than transport, including interventions to address the enduring social norms that stand in the way of women’s mobility.

If we are aiming for inclusive and sustainable mobility, we must tackle the issue in its entirety and promote meaningful collaboration across all relevant sectors. That is the only way we can connect more women to more opportunities, and build efficient, inclusive transport systems.

Thanks to its convening power and extensive knowledge base, the World Bank is uniquely positioned to make this happen.


To highlight the relation between gender, transport, and access to opportunity, the World Bank office in Lima asked women and men across the city to share their experiences. The differences are striking:


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