Taking the long way home: Women and transport in Serbia


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In many countries – like Serbia – transport systems were initially built by men, for men. Over past centuries, men marched, rode and drove coaches, cars, buses, trains and bicycles. They went to exploration and war, school and work. Women just didn’t.

But times have changed. A new study supported by the World Bank found that in Serbia today, women rely on public transportation more than men.  The study showed that although women and men take a similar number of trips per day – 3.9 and 3.6, respectively – men are more autonomous in their transport, while women tend to depend on others and switch modes more often.

Women ride a public bus in Belgrade
Svetlana Vukanovic, World Bank. Women on a Belgrade bus.

The Gender in Transport Study (GETS) in Serbia, launched in June 2019, is the first of its kind in the Europe and Central Asia region. Its aim? To identify gender differences in mobility patterns, barriers to women’s mobility and recommended improvements to create a transportation system that is more gender inclusive.

Key Findings

The study showed that men drive a car on 40% of their trips, while women only drive on 16% of the time. Furthermore, women are more often car passengers than drivers: 16% of the women’s trips are made as passengers in a car, in contrast to just 6% of men’s trips. Women take public transportation almost a quarter of the time (23% of trips), while men do so only 14% of the time.

Women are also more likely than men to combine multiple types of transport on their trips. For example, 46% of women in Serbia combine multiple buses on one trip every day. Just 17% of men do this . Transfers add an extra layer of complexity to trips because they are often not well synchronized.

Implicit Bias and Lack of Choice

With women being the primary user of public transportation, one might assume that the system would be designed with them in mind. Unfortunately this is not the case. Our research shows that while both men and women feel uneasy about public transportation in Serbia, it is worse for women.

Women feel outright unsafe in transport. One woman in 20 has reported sexual harassment on public transportation, at stations, in cabs and on sidewalks. Many more know someone who had experienced some form of groping, touching body or hair, pressing bodies or commenting. Sixty six percent of women felt generally uncomfortable about public buses, due to risks associated with unruly or drunk passengers and pickpockets. Many are beyond uneasy and are outright scared of suffering abuse. Women are also report regular discrimination and aggression in public transport or from drivers in cars. 

And there's more. Women take a third of their trips for shopping or culture and another third for commuting to work and back. Many combine time-consuming multiple modes of transport and walking that bites into their time and makes them more prone to quit an activity than men. The study showed that 55 percent of Serbian women would skip a cultural event due to limited mobility options, 48 percent will cancel a social commitment, and 38 will give up shopping. Stunningly, more than one in five women will even skip a health service for the same reason.

Both men and women in Serbia – 76% and 59% respectively - prefer driving to public transport. Why, then, do women allow themselves to be subjected to inconveniences and risks associated with public transportation? The fact is they have little choice in the matter. The rate of women drivers in Serbia is far lower than in developed EU countries. Seventy-one percent of men have a driving license and 68 percent own a car, while only 35 percent of women owns a license and 32 percent has a car.

This disparity is aligned with other gender gaps present in Serbia. Women in Serbia earn 19.3% less than men and are more likely to be jobless than men. Men comprise four-fifths of the workforce despite the fact than 45% of women versus 16% of men have a college degree. Women tend to work in administrative and professional posts, while 72% of managers and 66% of engineers and technicians are men. The fact of the matter is that men in Serbia are the primary workers – and somewhat as a result, the primary drivers.

Women at a Belgrade bus station.
Svetlana Vukanovic, World Bank. Women at a Belgrade bus station.

Redesign, now. But starting where?

The bottom line is that there is an array of factors affecting the average Serbian woman’s access to safe, comfortable, fast and affordable mobility. Women are commuting more, and transportation systems need an urgent, gender-inclusive redesign that reflects this shifting reality. Small things, such as securing pavements, fixing street lights or providing access to safe bicycle paths are a good start. But more substantial changes are needed so that women can rely on transportation to be safe, accessible and convenient for their schedules.

Transport is more than just a line between points A and B, it is an essential service that connects people with social and economic opportunity and should be designed to meet both women’s and men’s current and future needs. 


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