24 septiembre 2015

A male traveler; a female traveler: the two faces of public transport

Last week, we attended, as gender specialists, the IDB’s seminar on Gender and Transport in Mexico. During conversations held both within the event’s presentations and casually over coffee, we realized that our experiences in public transport are quite different:

Andrew: I have traveled by public transport around the world, from Washington D.C., where I live, to Cairo, Lima and even Myanmar. In general, I have always felt very comfortable. Even when I felt uncomfortable, the cause was due to overcrowding and not to my personal safety. My deepest concern is running into a pickpocket and, as an experienced traveler, I know how to minimize this risk (my tip: carry an old wallet with small bills in an easily accesable pocket and the rest in a safe place).

Andrea: After hearing many stories involving sexual harassment on public transportation and personally experiencing an awkward situation on an Istanbul train, every trip I take in Washington DC, where I live, and in Latin America is accompanied by a strategy. During the day, I seek to sit close to other women in order to avoid being touched inappropriately. At night, I analyze which streets are well lit, which stations are the busiest and try to be accompanied by others.

What explains these differences? Our sex. Women travel with a constant fear of being touched inappropriately and other forms of sexual harassment, while men generally do not. The statistics in Latin America, regarding these concerns, are worrying. Fear of sexual assualt when traveling by public transportation is noted as a major concern by 64% of women in Bogota and 60% in Lima. In fact, a study of 15 cities globally revealed that the three most dangerous public transport systems for women reside in Bogota, Mexico City and Lima.

Unsafety transport systems designed for men

What can we do to reduce these levels of unsafety? The following are a few proposals that transport and gender specialists explored at the event in Mexico:

  • Women-only cars: Mexico D.F. and Rio de Janeiro are some of the cities that have launched pink cars, which certainly improve the safety of women. However, they have also been criticized for not addressing the underlying problem: the behavior of men who generate this need. The truth is that pink cars can be effective in the short term, but only if accompanied by complementary actions.
  • Education campaigns: Campaigns to change norms and behaviors (such as the Supercívicos).
  • Increased security: The installation of cameras, security officers and better lighting in stations, trains and buses.
  • New technology: Development or adaptation of existing smartphone applications, allowing women to access up information about dangerous areas or pinpointing their location so that their family members can locate them.

In addition to security, there are other ways in which public transport does not meet the needs of women.  For decades public transportation has been designed to meet the needs of traditional working men and their schedules. Meanwhile, women often make shorter trips, accompanied by children or elderly, outside of the normal rush hour. Therefore it is necessary to:

  • Disaggregate data by sex and include specific questions on mobility surveys to gather more information on women’s transportation needs.
  • Analyze the costs of trips for women and those who they provide care for, to launch targeted tariffs and subsidies.
  • Create simple and effective designs that are adapted to women’s personal needs and those as carergivers of others, such as those found at Transport for London

The ultimate goal is that, whether your name is Andrew or Andrea, the greatest adventure you can encounter on your next trip by subway or bus is missing your stop or, even better witness a flashmob.

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