By Rebecca Sands, Community & Project Manager at Autonomy
In a recent consultation held by the International Transport Forum, Autonomy had the chance to gather with a number of experts to engage in a dialogue about some of the most prominent gender issues in transport. With the goal of brainstorming ways innovation could provide better access and opportunities for women in mobility – both as users and as professionals – here are the discussion’s 4 key takeaways.
A sense of safety is decisive, but contextually specific
In a study presented by the International Finance Corporation on women’s use of ride hailing, research showed that women make up a large portion of the global user base. In some countries (Indonesia), 70% of all ride hailing users are women. Out of those surveyed, 25% of female ride hailers said they were more independent and had greater mobility, while 7% were more comfortable going out at night and able to reach destinations they couldn’t otherwise access. These results, and the input that followed, reaffirmed that women are very often making their primary mobility choices based on safety (even if it is not a guarantee, as Uber’s 2019 report clearly demonstrated). The difference here is between the perception and reality of safety.
In addition, the majority of female ride hail and other modality users are more affluent (although less so than men), highlighting the link between affordability and access. In many urban contexts, last mile isn’t even a consideration for women, because the first mile doesn’t exist either. And if a perceived safer option isn’t financially viable, this can either limit women’s overall mobility or put them in potentially dangerous situations. In this context, perhaps the greater transport system is failing on a much larger scale than prosperous societies think it is.
Significant barriers to sustainable choices
Despite the overall complexity of women’s mobility patterns, some empirical research has concluded that male energy consumption in the transport sector is higher than that of females (Räty and Carlsson-Kanyama, 2010), partially attributed to gender stratification and the the social roles ascribed to women in many societies. Yet if women are consistently choosing a more polluting option for a greater sense of security – i.e. an Uber vs. a city bus – this is a far cry from mobility developing sustainably. While questions of women’s safety certainly reflect greater societal challenges, it also shows a defect in other options. Public transport doesn’t sell itself as safe, and again, the perception can be that it isn’t – there are plenty of triggers that affect women’s attitudes like lighting, underground stations with a lack of surveillance, or even cleanliness. To change perception and the reality of sometimes very dangerous environments will mean approaching transport planning with a gendered perspective.
Beyond safety, there are also some very real cultural expectations that can limit women’s ability to choose more sustainable options, like maintaining a standard of appearance or accommodating children’s mobility needs.
A serious need for more data
The overarching idea that the more specific the data, the more effective solutions can be, is, of course, applicable to the mobility industry. Unfortunately, very few countries and private sector actors are examining gender-specific transport data, which means that many projects are developed without gender considerations. In today’s transportation economy, where data is being collected and used on such a grand scale to make decisions and inform innovation, how can half of the traveling public’s needs be accounted for if the data doesn’t reflect their specific experience? There is a tremendous need in the mobility sector to scale-up gender-specific data collection, not only to understand the trips that are taken, but also the trips that aren’t. The data needs to reveal what isn’t happening for women just as much as it needs to uncover how, when, and why women decide to make the transportation decisions that they do. If not, we cannot address further issues of sustainability, accessibility, and safety.
With more data, this can hopefully inform the development of a necessary framework and common language in which to define, address, and evaluate gender issues in transport.
“Nothing about us without us”
As a frequent expression used in the disability rights community – another voice in the mobility ecosystem that deserves an equal seat at the table – “nothing about us without us” speaks to the basic principle that any decision-making should include the representation of those affected. The key challenges that women continue to experience call into question who is conceiving the system – and today, the mobility sector is still dominated by men.
Unfortunately, technological innovation is increasing the professional gender divide. In an industry largely built by men and for men, the likelihood is that without foresight, technological change will determine winners and losers along gender lines. While innovation has the potential to transform the sector, there is an imbalance between the consideration of female users versus female transport professionals. Yet many would probably agree that systems designed for women and systems that benefit women start with the workforce itself.
There is the possibility that too much of a focus on a STEM background is actually limiting women’s entry into the sector. The fact is that women arrive to jobs in mobility in many different ways, and despite its reputation as perhaps less interesting to women, mobility is driving many crucial aspects of urban economies and decarbonisation initiatives. The group Women@Renault has found that after 10 years of exploring the lack of female representation in the sector, the pool of female talent is actually shrinking due to self-exclusion and poor HR policies. Perhaps if there is a greater effort to strengthen the correlation between female users and professionals, with concrete actions to improve the experience of female users coming from the top and including women’s input, this will reflect better numbers of attraction and retainment of female mobility professionals.
Read more about gender consideration in the mobility sector with these UMDaily articles: