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Noticias Transport Gender Lab

Safe Public Transportation for Women and Girls

What is Safe Public Transportation for Women and Girls?

Safe public transportation for women and girls is a system that is reliable, easy-to-use and flexible. Women do not only go from A to B during the day (from home to work). They rather, as the main caregivers and formal and informal workforce, make chain trips through the city, across directions and zigzagging – a single trip can mean going to multiple destinations and for different purposes. Trips made by women being rather multi-purpose had led to refer to this phenomenon as trip chaining. This means that women usually combine all the activities they must carry out during the day: house chores, caregiving tasks, and wage-earning activities. In public transport, it is very common to see women get off at multiple destinations, pay for several trips and travel in off-peak hours. (Peters, 2002, 7) Eventually, “women in urban areas tend to make more and shorter trips to more diverse destinations and at different times in the day. These trips are more expensive in terms of time and money.” (Kunieda and Gauthier, 2003, 6) Safe transportation for women and girls takes into account, and meets the needs of women and girls according to their travel patterns.

It is essential to recognize that these kind of traveling can also be less safe, since many women do part of the distance on foot, or have the need to wait in unsafe spots in order to access public transport. Also, during off-peak hours, public transport can be less reliable (by necessity, women must cross the city very early in the morning and very late at night). (Peters, 2002, 7) For instance, in Bogota, Colombia, between 6 am and 12 pm, women are proportionally more exposed than men to being robbed. These are crucial times of the day because they are commuting hours. These are the hours when most thefts occur in the main routes of the TransMilenio system. From 6 pm to 12 am, women are most affected by theft. Women leave work or school and can become victims of theft when going home, having to go through dark and lonely alleys. (Mayor’s Office of Bogota, Colombia, 2007)

During the day, women in rural areas often have to travel long distances – on foot, using non-motorized means and/or by public transport – either to collect firewood or to travel to urban communities. However, “most public transport, both urban and rural, has marked routes and timetables for the service of wage-earning trips, mainly for men, not for women with multiple roles as mothers, breadwinners and entrepreneurs who need to travel to various destinations in off-peak hours.” (World Bank, 2006) Thus, urban transport planners and policymakers prioritize the needs of the “typical” male household (Peters, 2002, 6), while women’s tendency to make chain trips is not taken into account in most transport plans and designs. (Peters, 1998, 1) Therefore, although there is in fact a complex variety of different structures in households, public transport continues to function according to this outdated ideal of the middle-aged man, the sole breadwinner, who leaves the house for work in the morning and returns early in the evening.

In general, partners of the initiative Safe Cities for Women should promote having a broader spectrum of transportation solutions that take into account environmental and socio-economic needs and concerns, as well as the issues this raises. Initiatives that encourage safe public transport for women and girls should, therefore, not be limited to improving motorized means of transport. That is, well-maintained alleys, pedestrian crossings, well-lit sidewalks, bike paths, bicycle-chaining areas, and community bike-sharing programs are integral to making cities safe for women and girls, as well as more welcoming and livable in general. In line with these efforts, public transportation systems in particular must be planned and designed to meet the specific needs of women according to the routes they use, the times of day they depend on public transport, the places where they wait for transport units, and the places where they get off.

For all of these reasons, safe public transport for women and girls must be based on the recognition of their differentiated experiences, needs and roles. For women to be able to exercise their right to freedom of movement in cities, public transportation systems must address all obstacles limiting this right. (Peters, 1999). There is an urgent need for gender-sensitive strategies to adapt to local realities so they can combat the tendency to favor men’s needs in terms of variables, such as routes and frequency (Peters, 2002, 3). When planning public transport, the different needs of young and old citizens, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups should also be considered.


Conclusions and Considerations for Transport Planners in Western Europe and North America

Zoning policies with poor land use trace a line between residential areas and workplaces, which has a greater impact on women’s mobility.

Women make more complex journeys than men, often traveling to nurseries, schools, work and shops. Twice as many women as men take children to school

75% of bus trips are made by women

Only 30% of women have access to a car during the day

Poor public transport and lack of childcare facilities and shops close to workplaces limit the possibility of women to enter the job market

Women feel less secure than men when they are out alone at night, especially in slums and social housing projects.

Source: Greed, C. 2007. A Place for Everyone? Gender Equality and Urban Planning. Oxfam/RTPI: p. 1. English original version available.


Gender-sensitive public transport

Examples of strategies for safe public transportation incorporating a gender perspective:

Bus routes designed according to women’s schedules and the places they travel to; 

Programs offering services between stops allowing women to get off closer to their destination late at night and early in the morning;

Design of subway stations with characteristics that prioritize the prevention of violence, and take into account those women who have already been victims of violence;

Women-only buses and train cars in cities where overcrowding goes hand in hand with sexual, physical and verbal harassment and abuse against women;

Creating bike paths so that women have flexible options to move around;

Public transport at affordable prices;

Well-lit, visible sidewalks and walkways equipped with emergency services so that women can walk to and from public transport, as well as to and from their destinations.

For public transport to be safe for women and girls, planners must incorporate a gender perspective at all levels and stages of planning and design. Ensuring safe public transport for women and girls does not only mean defining initiatives that are differentiated for women and girls (see the example of women-only initiatives in the program implementation section). Rather, a gender perspective must be a cross-cutting element in all public transport decisions. Gender Mainstreaming is key. Public transport can mainstream gender by ensuring the following:

  • Development processes of gender-sensitive policies
  • Awareness-raising and training on gender and transport for staff
  • Recruitment, training and promotion of women in all aspects of transport
  • Participation of women and men users of all ages in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the project
  • Addressing gender-related transportation needs and constraints during project design, implementation and evaluation
  • Gender-sensitive organizational policies, strategies and operational guidelines

Source: World Bank 2006 Mainstreaming Gender in Transport in Gender and Transport Resource Guide: Part 1.4. World Bank English original version available.


Why is Safe Public Transport Important for Women and Girls?

Safe public transport designed with a gender perspective is a fundamental component of safe cities for women and girls. Buses, bus stops, train cars, subway platforms, cabs, trams and trains are to be conceived as public spaces - but they are not perceived the same way by men and women. Moreover, public transport includes spaces where women can experience several forms of gender-based violence on a daily basis: sexual abuse, harassment, groping, verbal abuse, intimidation and aggression. Given these conditions, safe public transportation systems is a requirement for women and girls to be able to move freely, as it is their right, and to live the city and fully enjoy public spaces. If women cannot travel safely on a daily basis, counting on the cities being violence-free, then the city is not safe for women and girls. All individuals, whether they live in urban or rural areas, need to move from one place to another as part of their daily lives; this may include having to go from home to work, using services and recreation. A study carried out by the World Bank in Peru found that, while traveling using public transport, personal safety is the main concern for women, speed is the main concern for men. This same study points out that “In order to compensate for [the lack of personal security], [women] come up with a series of strategies ranging from avoiding certain routes, or traveling alone at night, to carrying pins while traveling by bus in order to drive offenders away.” (Gómez, 2000, 2)

Safe public transport for women and girls is essential because it allows them to move around freely and without being afraid. In the absence of actions in this regard, women are forced to adopt different defense strategies, such as only wearing “conservative” clothes while on public transport, traveling in groups, only boarding trains and buses when they are not overcrowded, ignore verbal and sexual harassment, asking for help in a very loud voice, carrying pins and/or needles to defend themselves, standing against a window or at the back of the bus, subway or tram, avoiding taking cabs alone or traveling in vehicles where only men are traveling. (Kunieda and Gauthier, 2003, 14) These defense strategies put an additional burden on women’s daily lives, and denies them the right to freely enjoy all the opportunities the city has to offer.