Mind the (gender) gap: how cities are putting women at the heart of their transport strategies

Women using public transport

Public transport strategies are increasingly taking into account women's needs. Image: Unsplash/Chang Hsien

Hannah Keyes
Project Fellow, Global New Mobility Coalition, World Economic Forum
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  • Access to affordable and reliable transportation is one of the biggest barriers to paid employment for women globally.
  • Why and how women move through urban spaces is largely influenced by their disproportionate share of childcare and domestic responsibilities and real and perceived concerns around personal safety and security.
  • Many cities worldwide are recognizing the importance of gender-informed transportation policies to more equitably meet the needs of women, paired with actions to increase the number of women working in transportation.

Transport is an essential part of daily life, yet for half of the population, it’s rarely as simple as getting from A to B. Transportation is one of the biggest barriers to women’s global workforce participation, due in large part to infrastructure and planning that does not meet the unique travel patterns and concerns of women. There is a growing trend of cities working to address this gap through changes to policy, planning, infrastructure and representation of women in the transportation workforce.

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How is the World Economic Forum promoting sustainable and inclusive mobility systems?

Transportation as a barrier to economic and social mobility

The negative impacts of mobility barriers for women are evident and significant. According to a recent study by the International Labor Organization (ILO), the global rate of women’s participation in the workforce is just under 47%, compared to 72% for men and 70% of women showing a preference for paid work.

This significant gap between women’s actual participation in the workforce and their preference for paid work highlights the significant barriers to employment that women face around the world.

While societal expectations around gender roles, work-family balance and a lack of affordable care are all significant barriers, a lack of safe and accessible transportation is the most significant hurdle for women in developing and emerging countries, reducing the probability of women participating in the labour force by an estimated 16.5%.

Due to a combination of safety concerns and the provision of child and dependent care, women often spend significantly more money than men on transportation – this is referred to as the mobility 'Pink Tax.' Considering that transportation access and safety are leading barriers to paid work for women, it is clear that a lack of a safe and inclusive mobility policy and infrastructure exacerbates income and wealth disparities along gendered lines.

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Tackling gender and mobility hand-in-hand - the case of Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires, one of the cities collaborating on the Global New Mobility Coalition's Urban Mobility Scorecard initiative (UMSi), is setting a global example for how cities can push the needle towards more equitable and inclusive sustainable urban mobility. For Buenos Aires, tackling issues with gender and mobility is a crucial part of the transition to equitable and inclusive sustainable urban mobility.

The Argentine capital has been working to transform from a gender perspective, evidenced by the multitude of plans, reports and project implementations centring around women in recent years. “Inequalities in relation to mobility and accessibility to public transport imply less access to other rights,” notes Lucila Capelli, Under Secretary of Mobility Planning for the Buenos Aires City Government.

“To ensure women feel able to use streets and transport safely and sustainably,” says Manuela López Menéndez, Buenos Aires Secretary of Transportation and Public Works, “we are prioritising efforts to change things for the better. “Our Gender and Mobility Plan (Plan de Género y Movilidad) presents key areas for action, including planning, design and management with a gender perspective; increasing the number of women working in the transport sector; more research on daily mobility and safety with a gender perspective; as well as training and awareness in gender perspectives.”

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A mismatch between the built environment and how women travel

Identifying barriers in transportation creates an opportunity for cities wanting to create more equitable economic systems to make policy and infrastructure changes that can meaningfully impact economic mobility for women. A key first step to addressing this challenge is an understanding of the unique travel patterns, trip types and barriers facing women travelling through urban spaces.

Women account for more than half of the population… and can have different needs and experiences than men... Women are more likely to use several modes in a single trip, typically spend more time and money on getting around for daily activities, and can often face harassment when using transport.

Manuela López Menéndez, Buenos Aires Secretary of Transportation and Public Works

Travel surveys globally report similar findings – that women walk more, drive and bike less and generally make more daily trips than men. Mode share on public transit is much more balanced, but women are vastly more likely to make trips outside of rush hour peaks and more likely for care or domestic purposes.

Aside from route planning and transit timetables incongruent with their needs, women face real traffic safety and personal security concerns, which are not adequately accounted for in the existing systems and built environments of most global cities. When travelling in most urban environments, women face an increased chance of:

• Injury in a vehicle crash due to vehicle safety measures tested using male crash dummies

Acting for change

Recognizing the urgent need for more inclusive transportation in cities around the world, cities like Buenos Aires are showing how to take the lead on efforts to better understand the mobility patterns and concerns of women. Alongside others, such as Mexico City and Los Angeles, these cities are setting examples of how policy, planning and infrastructure changes can create safer, more accessible mobility for women – and, in turn, create safer and more accessible mobility for all.

The first step towards gender-informed mobility transformation is to understand the unique and varying mobility needs across genders. Cities interested in delving deeper into this and other issues around equitable, inclusive and sustainable urban mobility can get involved with the Global New Mobility Coalition’s Urban Mobility Scorecards initiative to gain access to a community of cities, companies and NGOs collaborating for a more sustainable future for all.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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