Expert Speak Urban Futures
Published on Jun 12, 2023 Updated 3 Days ago
Inclusive, thoughtful, and collective approaches can bolster secure, affordable, accessible and sustainable city transport systems for all
Mainstreaming gender in urban mobility: Towards inclusive and accessible city transit systems More than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, with almost half of it being women. Core developmental concerns related to urban growth lead cities to often sideline the unique challenges of women and minority genders. Moreover, urban design approaches of the developed world for mainstreaming gender do not adequately address the problems of the Global South. As one of the critical impediments of urban planning, gendered mobility patterns tend to have a cumulative impact on other areas of growth, development, and well-being. For instance, data shows how girl students have to choose lower-ranked colleges due to the lack of accessibility to safe transport services, thus compromising the quality of education they receive.
Urban design approaches of the developed world for mainstreaming gender do not adequately address the problems of the Global South.
What are the challenges for mainstreaming gender into urban mobility frameworks? How can a more participatory approach enable planners and policymakers to cater to the unique transportation needs of everyone? How can multistakeholder action frameworks provide equitable and accessible urban transport systems for all?

Identifying the myriad challenges

The distinct mobility patterns of women indicate the differences in the kind of responsibilities shouldered by women as compared to men. Their minimal agency in decision-making and safety and financial stability concerns further accentuate these divergences. Moreover, women are vulnerable to sexual harassment while travelling publicly, disrupting their travel experience. A study in Kozhikode, Kerala, revealed that almost 71 percent of women respondents faced harassment while waiting to travel on public transport, whereas 69 percent while using it. Likewise, transgender people have reported frequent abuse while using public transport. The lack of representation of women and gender minorities in the transport sector as drivers or conductors is another factor that contributes to their unsafe travel experiences. Disregarding women’s travel patterns, as they tend to take shorter and more frequent trips, and of other gender minorities further aggravates the problem. The challenges have increased post-pandemic, where gender differences are becoming more pronounced. A case in point is the reduction in women’s ridership in the Delhi Metro by 16 percent due to social distancing norms. Many women opted for personal vehicles, increasing traffic congestion, thus, highlighting the need to ensure adequate public mobility options. Additionally, the social tendency to judge women on their clothes while travelling impacts their mobility decisions. Several such instances have revealed how urban mobility systems are often designed in a gender-insensitive manner.
The lack of representation of women and gender minorities in the transport sector as drivers or conductors is another factor that contributes to their unsafe travel experiences.

Towards gender-responsive urban mobility

The unique challenges of urban mobility call for participatory, inclusive, and innovative solutions that can make movement in the city convenient for all. Therefore, it is pertinent to rethink gender representation in urban planning and policymaking. For instance, Vienna has successfully reduced women’s travel anxieties by increasing women’s representation in its urban mobility design. These approaches involved wider footpaths, better lighting, ramps for bikes and low-height buildings. Innovative projects like the Pink Auto in Surat, India, employ women auto rickshaw drivers, creating a more inclusive and safer travel environment while motivating more women to join the programme. Prioritising gender choices in designing mobility systems can help reinforce responsive systems by ensuring participation. Not factoring in these needs can have an adverse effect, such as in the case of Sweden, where the cleaning of arterial roads was prioritised over cycleways, indicating an oversight of women’s preferred travel choices. On the other hand, initiatives like FemiBici from Mexico, being mindful of women’s needs, train women bikers to ease their travel, especially at night. Likewise, India’s “Cycles4Change” challenge under the Smart Cities Mission, aimed at improving the cycling infrastructure during COVID-19, includes women in its core working group across 52 cities. Taking a step ahead, Vadodara has appointed an inclusivity manager to comprehend the challenges that women cyclists might face.
Prioritising gender choices in designing mobility systems can help reinforce responsive systems by ensuring participation.
Gender-balanced approaches can also play a pivotal role in providing better employment opportunities while ensuring the economic viability of mobility mechanisms. For instance, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, has employed women and transgender people to run E-rickshaws, a comparatively affordable paratransit mode. This initiative is further helpful in maintaining first- and last-mile connectivity that has the potential to catalyse public transit.

Achieving multistakeholder action

Participatory models of development combined with multistakeholder approaches involving global collaborations can provide the impetus for equitable and accessible urban mobility systems. For example, multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have identified priority intervention areas for mainstreaming gender in urban mobility at the city-governance level.
  • Universal toolkits and partnerships must leverage local peculiarities by encouraging gender-inclusive insights from the city’s policymakers, planners, industry, academia, civil society, and A case in point is the Indo-German Green Urban Mobility partnership that intends to create local, sustainable modes of transportation for all through a multidimensional framework.
  • A viable partnership model for inclusive urban transport is also evident in the collaboration between the Kerala government and the Center for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC)—the R&D organisation for the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. C-DAC develops and implements the Suraksha-Mitra system to provide real-time updates on the movements of vehicles with a facility to share instant distress updates. Tamil Nadu has also taken cognisance of the travel needs of all, especially gender minorities, by providing free bus travel to transgender people and ensuring their representation in the State Planning Commission.
  • A critical component for augmenting safe and convenient city travel systems includes collecting and analysing data based on gendered parameters at the national and sub-national levels. Gender-disaggregated data can help in informing gender-sensitive urban approaches. Regular gender budgeting and auditing can further assist in monitoring and evaluating relevant policies. For example, through the structured use of crowd-sourced information and city-level audits, the Safetipin app rates public spaces on various safety-related criteria to alert its users.
  • More importantly, encouraging public-private-people partnerships (PPPPs) can lead to effective participation in building urban mobility systems through project planning, financing, implementation, and monitoring. Through systematic investigations, such collaborations will help gain deeper insights into citizens’ travel trends and facilitate data mining. Understanding travel patterns can also help bring about timely policy reforms, design appropriate awareness programmes and facilitate capacity-building for various stakeholders. A case in point is the OLA Foundation’s Ease of Moving Index, outlining urban mobility challenges across diverse parameters such as sustainability, infrastructure, and socioeconomic needs for responsive and inclusive policymaking.
Multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have identified priority intervention areas for mainstreaming gender in urban mobility at the city-governance level. 
Inclusive, thoughtful, and collective approaches can bolster secure, affordable, accessible and sustainable city transport systems for all. Moreover, a gender-responsive mobility mechanism sits at the centre of urban design to achieve Sustainable Development Goals in the 2030 Decade of Action.
Anusha Kesarkar Gavankar is a Senior Fellow with the Centre for Economy and Growth at the Observer Research Foundation Radhika Sareen was an intern with the Centre for Economy and Growth at the Observer Research Foundation
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Anusha Kesarkar Gavankar

Anusha Kesarkar Gavankar

Anusha is Senior Fellow at ORF’s Centre for Economy and Growth. Her research interests span areas of Urban Transformation, Spaces and Habitats. Her work is centred ...

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Radhika Sareen

Radhika Sareen

Radhika Sareen was an intern with the Centre for Economy and Growth at the Observer Research Foundation

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