Celebrating Women in Sustainable Transport

A woman enjoys a cycle lane on Ahmedabad's Janmarg system. Photo by Meena Kadri.

Today is International Women’s Day, dedicated to the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. Women have made much progress in society, but there are still many injustices and inequities to tackle, especially in the realm of transportation.

In 2007, for example, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office found that 86 percent of public transportation riders who said they had been sexually assaulted did not report it to the police. Granted, women are not exclusively the victims of sexual assault, but women do comprise the majority of this group.

There is also a gap between what women need to be safe on public transportation and what policy and practice are willing to do. For example, a nationwide survey of transit agencies in the U.S. led by Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and supported by the Mineta Transportation Institute found that while two-thirds of respondents believed that women travelers have some specific needs, only one-third felt that transit agencies should really do something about it. But even worse was that only 3 percent of the agencies had any programs directed at women. (Just to note, the survey targeted general managers and the heads of security, and 75 percent of the respondents were men.)

The reason women have different needs while using public transportation has everything to do with the way they use these systems. For example, a 2011 study by Stanford University shows that in 15 European countries, a greater number of women than men make multiple stops when travelling by public transportation between their home and workplace. Women also make shorter stops than men on the way to and from work in order to perform household-sustaining activities, like grocery shopping and running family errands.

Having a child under the age of 5 also had an influence on whether or not women make multiple stops while using public transportation. This very fact increased the likelihood of someone making multiple stops while using public transportation. The study also found that working women in two-worker families were twice as likely as men to pick up and drop off school-age children during their commute.

To address the unique needs of women while using public transportation, Loukaitou-Sideris recommends including them in the decision-making process.Transportation planners really need to look at women’s fears in transportation settings and know that there are things that they can do to if not completely eliminate but reduce these fears,” Loukaitou-Sideris explains. “These solutions involve policy, design, policing, and outreach and education.”

Empowering women to contribute to sustainable transportation greatly elevates justice, which is why the Chilean feminist group Macleta is offering its 7th series of classes aimed at teaching women how to ride bikes to help them conquer their fears and move around the city with a sense of ownership. Besides teaching women how to ride a bike, the organization uses data and information about women, their fears and their motivations, to design teaching methodologies and strategies that successfully encourage women to overcome their fears.

“We believe that a bicycle, more than an end in itself, becomes a means,” said Sofía López, coordinator of Macleta. “A woman who starts to ride around on a bicycle is happier, she is more aware of the public space around her, she wants to occupy it, interact with other people… it promotes a kind of empowerment.”

To commemorate women’s role in improving urban space and transportation, here are ten of our past posts on these topics. Enjoy the articles and feel free to share your views on how to incorporate women and other underrepresented groups in transportation planning in the comments section.

Meet Vatsala: Portrait of an Auto-Rickshaw User

Vatsala makes a living doing housework. After she wakes up, Vatsala goes to the tap to get water, takes a bath, prays, cooks the day’s meals for her family and heads to work using an auto-rickshaw. She gets two days off a month, and sometimes prefers to not take-off, especially when her schedule is very busy.

Women at Higher Risk of Injury in Car Crashes

According to a new study by the American Journal of Public Health, women are at a greater risk of injury or death in car crashes because of inadequate safety design in motor vehicles.

Bicycles Liberate Women in Zimbabwe

Jane Madembo relived her experience as a public transit and bicycle commuter in Zimbabwe. In the article, Madembo explains that public transport was scarce in the low-density, suburban areas where she had to travel for work, leaving her and other commuters to rely on inadequate and overcapacity transport methods.

Honk for Saudi Women: Taking a Stand for Personal Mobility

Bicycles as a Source of Income in Africa


Bicycles Empower Women and Boost Economic Development in Uganda

Over 200 Ugandan women met in Buhoma,Uganda to learn how to ride and repair bicycles in an effort to promote bicycling and provide economic development opportunities. Ride 4 a Woman (R4W), a nonprofit organization focused on economically and socially empowering local women living near Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, and OneStreet, an international nonprofit organization working to promote bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly transit, spearheaded the project.

Female Bikers as Indicator for Street Safety in Latin America

Lima, Peru is a megacity with a population approaching 9 million. It is notorious for its sprawling growth, vast slums and mobility issues stemming from a spike in car ownership and cab usage beginning in the 1990s. To deal with some of the problems in the country, The World Bank provided loans through the Transport Rehabilitation Project (TRP) to improve road maintenance and mobility of the poor , specifically women, by focusing on biking.

Recognizing a Woman’s Role in Sustainable Transport

Today is International Women’s Day, a celebration observed since 1911 to recognize the economic, political and social achievements of women around the world. Eric Britton at World Streets wrote acommemorative piece on how “women hold the key to the future of not only sustainable transportation but also to a sustainable and just world.”

Holland’s Female Walk Signs

The Dutch town of Haarlem has walk and don’t walk signs that are women instead of men. We should too.

CGI Live Blogging: Investing in Girls and Women…for Safer Public Transportation?

Moderated by acclaimed journalist Diane Sawyer, co-anchor of Good Morning America and Primetime, the discussion agenda focused on how “every problem in the world is exacerbated by gender inequality.” The claim is that women, compared to men, lack access to education, health care, jobs and political opportunities – and those barriers are ruinous for the health of global society. However, as the panelists noted, there are success stories of women who have overcome hardship and created change in their communities, and they serve as positive examples of how educated, empowered women not only improve their own situation, but also their family life, and ultimately, society at large.

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