That Sweet Spot: G-STUP (Gender, Sustainable Transport, Urban Planning)

How to achieve this year’s theme for International Women’s Day: Be Bold For Change, which demands that urban and transportation planning recognize gender equity as an integral part of sustainable cities


Unsafe and uncomfortable public transportation systems will compel women to use private modes of transport. Photo: Hindustan Times
Unsafe and uncomfortable public transportation systems will compel women to use private modes of transport. Photo: Hindustan Times

While there has been increased attention to violence against women in public spaces, urban and transportation planning processes continue to be gender blind. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day—Be Bold For Change, demands that urban and transportation planning recognize gender equity as an integral part of sustainable cities. But, how can this be enabled?

Recognize that women’s modal shares are key to achieving sustainable transport targets: 865 million i.e. around one billion women will enter the work force, in this decade. The mode of transport that women use for their work and care trips—walk, cycle, bus, auto-rickshaw or shared auto-rickshaw, cabs, two-wheeler or four-wheeler will have a profound effect in curbing or exacerbating green house gas emissions from urban transport.

Unsafe and uncomfortable public transportation systems will compel women to use private modes of transport. If urban local bodies do not collect gender inclusive data while preparing their city mobility plans, they will continue to remain unaware of women’s mobility patterns and needs.

City transportation agencies will need to not only collect gender disaggregated data, but also understand how men and women use transportation systems, public spaces and cities differently; and design questionnaires, interviews and methodologies to capture these.

For example, women’s trip chaining patterns to reflect travel for work and household responsibilities, shorter but more frequent trips, greater concerns of safety while cycling or lack of access to cycles, travel with dependents and so forth. This will compel transportation planners to address route planning, peak and off-peak services, affordability, appropriate levels of service along with safer transportation systems.

This implies that our higher educational institutions will need to equip themselves and their students in understanding the physical and social dimensions of how our cities are gendered. Having conducted sessions on Gender and Public Transport with over 100 students and practitioners, I have seen that they are hungry to know and eager to learn.

Spell out women’s safety concerns in transportation systems: Currently women’s safety concerns are encapsulated under public spaces. For example, one of the sustainable development goals on gender aims to “eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres”. While, this is true, we need to acknowledge the violence against women in transportation systems—when walking and cycling or accessing public transport stops/terminals, waiting at the bus stops, terminals and railway stations, boarding and alighting buses or trains and travelling in these vehicles.

This is to ensure that women’s safety is considered by urban transport authorities during the planning and design of our city bus and mass transit systems, our streets, bus stops, railway stations, terminals, buses and trains, and existing initiatives are monitored and evaluated.

Women’s organizations and transport / urban planners need to work together: It has been argued that women’s issues in transportation have been either framed as economic development issue or a rights issue but not both. Planners and women’s organizations need to work together to address the physical and social aspects of gender in city planning and transportation systems.

For example, how can women’s safety audits be mainstreamed in the evaluation and design of transportation infrastructure? In the 1980s, safety audits conducted by METRAC prompted the Toronto Transit Commission to create transparent bus shelters and the Request-a-Stop Program, which allows bus passengers travelling at night to alight between stops. It also created Designated Waiting Areas (DWAs) on subway platforms that would provide a safe, well-lit waiting area with access to an intercom that enabled communication with station operators.

We need more women in public spaces, not only as commuters but also as service providers: Women constitute around 2% of Delhi Transport Corporation’s workforce. There is one woman driver and women constitute around 2% of bus conductors. The Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation has around one-third women employees.

According to a report by the International Labour Organization, transport is one of several sectors that have traditionally been regarded as ‘no place for women’. In 2005, 6.85% women were employed in the transportation sector in India compared to 19% men. While disparities are observed across many countries, women’s presence at different levels in public transport authorities has the potential of mainstreaming gender within the organization, while bringing women’s issues to the fore in its services and infrastructure.

Do not pigeon hole women’s concerns while pursuing gender blind urban development: While the Government of India has announced the Nirbhaya Fund, which has been critiqued for its tardy utilization, the service level benchmarks for urban transport remain gender blind. The Smart City Mission and the recently announced Green Urban Mobility Scheme does not include indicators, such as increasing women’s ridership and preventing and reducing incidents of sexual harassment in public transport, which could compel cities to improve their transportation systems for women’s safety, accessibility and comfort.

Similarly, our city master plans remain gender blind by not acknowledging women’s need for infrastructure and services such as public toilets, crèches, day shelters, hostels for working women and students and limited access to public open spaces. Since the late 1990s, cities like Vienna have mainstreamed gender in city planning. One of their first housing projects, Women Work City, included courtyards with play areas that would allow parents and children to spend time outdoors without having to go far from home, integrated an on-site kindergarten, pharmacy and doctor’s office. The complex was located close to public transport to make running errands and getting to school and work easier.

To conclude, this International Women’s Day on 8March, being bold will entail recognizing women’s role in achieving sustainable transportation goals and reducing green house gas emissions, so that their concerns are neither pigeon-holed nor treated as special cases, but are an integral part of city design, planning and governance.

Sonal Shah is senior manager with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

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