International Women’s Day: This year BE BOLD for change

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The 2017 International Women’s Day on March 8th theme is “Be Bold for change”. Last year, organizations and individuals around the world supported the #PledgeForParity campaign and committed to help women and girls achieve their ambitions, challenge current conscious and unconscious bias against women and girls and answer a call for gender-balanced leadership. Additionally, from a transport perspective, key areas of interest were put forward such as ways to recognize women and men's contributions to sustainable cities more equally and innovative ways to account for travel time valuation and its impact on women´s economic development.

The growing global consensus is that advancing women’s economic empowerment (WEE) is both a matter of human rights and a key driver of sustainable development. McKinsey research shows that if women participated in the economy on the same level as men, it would add $12 trillion, or 11 percent, to the 2025 annual global GDP1. For some women, economic empowerment means closing wage gaps, increased representation in positions of management, leadership and decision-making as well as access to employment opportunities, freedom from harassment at work and on the way to work, and this is where safe transport plays a crucial role.

However, the transport patterns and mobility habits of men and women are quite different, and despite women representing the majority of users of public transport, there is little extra attention given to their particular needs in planning or operating public transportation systems. Men tend to take longer more regular trips, while women will make more frequent and complex trips, often associated with fitting in the needs of other such as children or close family members as well as for shopping or running errands. Yet, in some cities, the whole journey can be risky, especially when women travel at certain times of the day. In this regard, the FIA Foundation report Safe and Sound found examples of harassment in London, Paris and New York with as much as 90% of incidents not reported.

Building on the initial research, on 2016, CAF - Latin American Development Bank and the FIA Foundation launched Ella se mueve segura – a study of women’s personal security in public transport in Quito (Ecuador), Santiago (Chile) and Buenos Aires (Argentina). The three cities have different transport profiles: Quito with a mature BRT system soon to be complemented with a metro; Buenos Aires with a newer BRT combined with an established metro, and Santiago recently won the ITDP Sustainable Transport Award for its BRT. The study allows each of the city partners to use the same methodology while adding context specific information. We are proud to be members of the team!

Ella se mueve segura looks at the impacts of poor service levels and overcrowded public transport on women, as well as the degree of safety of the trip to and from the public transport stop or station. The creation of Advisory Councils in each city brings together transport professionals and operators, city planners, women’s groups and local decision makers to work on the development of a tool kit designed so that cities and other key actors in the transport sector can make headway in the issue.

Public transport should be safe for everyone, and this will be accomplished once women feel safe. If we consider the role of women in society, we could consider a women´s perception of safety as a barometer for measuring other users´ experience. Think about it, if a mother feels safe, wouldn’t her children also? It we consider women’s safety as a minimum threshold for designing public transport systems, then, we are considering everyone.

From the initial results of this research, it seems women are tempted to reduce their transport horizons if they perceive that transport is not safe. Therefore, if we want more women to participate in the formal economy, there is an imperative need to work on integral education programs built on a zero tolerance approach and public awareness on the right course of action for victims and bystanders. In addition, if we want to encourage women to continue to use public transport, we must plan systems that take into consideration their needs and their societal role. The threat of not doing so could mean losing women that use transport systems to private cars.

Making public transport safer for women should not be seen as a gender issue but rather as a socio economic one. Women and men need to have safe and affordable access by all types of public transport because it will bring indirect positive impacts on local and national economic development.

On this Marth 8th, 2017 International Women’s Day themed “Be Bold for change”, change is certainly in the air. If the Women’s Marches seen all over the world in January provides any indication, this year may see increased ‘girl power". That of which we should grab with both hands and use it to increase equity and equality even at the bus stop, and IWD 2017 is a good place to start!

Follow us on #EllaSeMueveSegura #SheMovesSafe
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The above are the personal views of the authors Heather Allen and Angie Palacios

Click here to view the Safe and Sound report

1  McKinsey (2015). The Power of Parity: How Advancing Women’s Equality Can Add $12 trillion to Global Growth. Available at: http://www.