Planning, designing and envisioning mobility and access systems with a woman in mind is a paradigm shift much closer to best practice than the best of practice. I’m in conversation with a friend who recently wrote a piece on women in transport planning in the ǃKheis Local Municipality, Northern Cape, South Africa. Before the piece we had a long conversation about the mobility needs of women in the transport service provision context. Particularly because women tend to have the most complex trip chains, connecting more activities than the average male per day. Which suggests that they are exposed to the greatest travel and transfer time costs. Income disparities between women and men perpetuate the lack of access to transport services that effectively meet their complex needs. Furthermore, a working woman endures a different spectrum of risk, street and public harassment than ever. I’ve concluded that the political and social culture of public space and transport assault contemporary women in all settlement types.
Why do we subsidize public transport? In order to assist populations where income may be a barrier to travel. To distribute equity. To revive a certain level of access and mobility up to the point where the service is sustainable. With significant evidence of income inequality between women and men, should women pay the same price for a transport service? In fact, is the service experience the same for women and men? No. Not so long ago sexual harassment in public transport was a policy topic in France, Australia and UK. #Manspreading also surfaced on a global scale as a persistent issue in the mobility experience of women (and men).
The South African picture is worse. We’re grappling with cases from the early 2000s to date of women being harassed based on how they’re dressed. Lately the #SafeTaxisNow charter emerged in response to the alarming rate and extent of violence inflicted upon women in the public transport space. However this conversation is hidden in the male culture of place and layers of misrepresentation of women in a increase sexual sense. Perhaps the most memorable article was where two women were stalked like prey at a transport interchange in early 2012.
Responses vary from policy statements condemning such behavior to audio and visual campaigns to stimulate debate and concern. A good example, at least off the top of my head is the case of Mexico where ‘penis seats’ and ‘butt films’ were in a campaign to interrogate men to attend to the discomfort.
Not just sexual
The mobility and access experience of women is starkly different from that of men. Particularly because women are relatively new in the workforce and endure discriminatory behavior in the broader economy of activities. In SA most transport drivers are men, and tend to impose “traditional” masculine norms upon women. Which is unacceptable in a professional environment and is worse because most male passengers (including myself at some point) have struggled to come up on the defense.
How places are made to facilitate the safety and security of walkways is essential. The NLTA refers to women as among the targeted transport users that require unique considerations that add value to all transport users. If one lady works in the same position as her male colleague but receives much lower pay, in an attempt to climb up she not only may work longer hours but she’ll be forced to use public transport. Without car pools and policy provisions the long term exposure to risk, early mornings and long travel times due to transfers dilute the gender justice mechanisms used to hire and retain quality staff. One article in the Sunday Times last year or so follows a woman around for her daily journey to and from work. The total travel times could be as much as 7 hours each day. This immediately sparks issues around fatigue and productivity. Although men are exposed to the same mobility and access inefficiencies the inconvenience is accentuated by the violence women frequently endure throughout the journey.
Transport officials in the local space need to perform enquiries about the local area experience of mobility and access issues with focus on gender specific challenges. Operators and planners need to be conscious of how to account for and conduct themselves when serving women (women drivers sometimes treat other women poorly). For women, a depth of remedies need to be developed as discriminatory practices sustain oppressive mobility and access conditions in economic, cultural, religious and socio-political realms. In my line of work black women seem to suffer the most from the lack of active policy and strategic positions propelled by local catalysts. At the same time masculine norms need urgent redefining.