Cities Foster Equity by Improving Urban Mobility for Women

On International Women’s Day last year, NewCities published 12 pieces on “The Future of Women in Cities,” highlighting what metropolitan governments around the world are doing to work towards gender equality. Returning to this theme, this year we are bringing the gendered focus to a specific aspect of life in cities: mobility. Mobility plays a central role in women’s experiences in the city and in discussions of how cities can be at the forefront of promoting gender equality and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, such as SDG 5 (gender equality) and SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities).

As Karla Dominguez writes in her article published in this edition of the Big Picture, mobility is not gender neutral. Worldwide, urban mobility is generally not designed by and for women, and this has consequences for their user experience, their ability to move freely and safely, and the decisions they make regarding their daily travels. It can lead to restricted access to transportation, and in turn limited access to essential opportunities and resources such as employment, education, leisure, civic engagement, and healthcare. To ensure that all citizens have access to these rights and opportunities, improving urban mobility is essential. Improving urban mobility can be a driving force towards gender equity.

A recent Metropolis report surveying over 130 cities shows when metropolitan governments address the issue of women’s safety and participation in public urban space, they often implement their policies and action plans on public transportation. Of 83 policies found, 20 specifically addressed public transportation. A few examples: In Montréal, the initiative “Between Two Stops” allows for women to be dropped off by buses in between stops, to shorten their walking distance at night. In Lyon, the public transportation system conducts “exploratory walks” with female passengers to acquire data on women’s experiences, and uses this to train its transit authorities. In Quito, bus stops were redesigned with women’s safety in mind, transit employees have been trained to respond to gendered harassment and violence, and transit users are encouraged to report instances of harassment and violence through an easy to use mobile application (Safety and Public Space: Mapping Metropolitan Gender Policies).

The enlightening pieces in this Big Picture look at the various challenges women face on public transport. They look at how this impacts their lives, whether it be, as Sarah Kaufman explores, in paying a “pink tax” (because they are more likely than men to make multiple stops on their journey and/or to choose taxis when they feel unsafe on public transit), missing various employment opportunities (because they face barriers to commuting at night), or in facing harassment and violence (globally, the percentage of women reporting incidences of harassment while on public transit ranges from between 30% and 65% depending on the city, noting that many people do not report these incidents, so the numbers are skewed low) (Most dangerous transport systems for women). While confronting these issues, these pieces also showcase a variety of inspiring solutions taking place in cities around the world and provide their own recommendations for improving women’s mobility.

Discussing mobility entails discussing safety and wellbeing, local and global economies, and accessible urban design and metropolitan governance. Urban mobility may be the site of daunting challenges, but it is also the site of many inspiring solutions that create more inclusive, safe, and accessible cities. As the seven writers featured in this Big Picture edition conclude, innovations in urban mobility that tailor to women’s daily needs and unique experiences, ensure their safety, and help them move with ease through public space, are innovations that foster gender equality and improve cities for all.