At UN Women’s forum, FIA Foundation highlights safe, sustainable mobility as a woman’s right

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North America Director Natalie Draisin speaking at the UN Habitat session during CSW.
North America Director Natalie Draisin speaking at the UN Habitat session during CSW.
Natalie Draisin and panellists representing ITDP, UN Habitat, Huariou Commission and Humanity & Inclusion support the #ThisisMyStreet campaign.
Natalie Draisin and panellists representing ITDP, UN Habitat, Huariou Commission and Humanity & Inclusion support the #ThisisMyStreet campaign.

The United Nations’ 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) highlighted the need for gender neutral public transport to tackle global inequality, create sustainable cities and fight climate change. The FIA Foundation focused on the needs of adolescent girls, who face exacerbated risk on roads via lack of safety and harassment, issuing a call for the first-ever UN Summit on Adolescent Health.

Speaking at the UN-Habitat session “Tackling Gender Inequality Through Improved Mobility,’ FIA Foundation North America Director and UN Representative Natalie Draisin presented research showing that most women globally experience harassment on public transport, limiting not only their mobility options but also access to health services, education, economic opportunities and overall participation in society.

Access to safe and secure mobility is especially critical for young women and girls, who often experience independence for the first time on the journey to and from school. At CSW, many high-level speakers highlighted access to education as the vehicle by which young women realise a multitude of rights, and escape poverty. However, without safe transport options, many girls miss school. To ensure access to the transformative benefits of education, urgent global action is needed on neglected issues impacting the lives of young girls and adolescents. Issues surrounding not only road traffic injury, but also mental health, gender-based violence, and sexual and reproductive health rights continue to blight the lives of young women globally.

“We asked an 11-year-old girl in Jamaica how she got to school every day. She said, ‘I take a car. My parents won’t let me take the bus because they say I’ll get raped.’ Can you imagine learning this at 11? Unsafe public transport denies our kids the opportunity to be kids. It leaves scars on the budding lives of our adolescents,” Natalie Draisin said. “This is why at the FIA Foundation, we’re asking leaders to gather here at the UN, and prioritize the generation that will benefit our society for decades to come – our youth. We’re calling for the first ever UN Summit on Adolescent Health.”

Though often more vulnerable, adolescents are not alone in facing disproportionate risks on public transportation. Women everywhere can be subject to harassment. The FIA Foundation presented essential research on women’s safety and security on public transport worldwide, contributing to the discussion around the main theme of CSW, sustainable infrastructure.

When women's safety is threatened on public transport, they are more likely to turn to unsustainable options, using a private vehicle, adding to car-dominated cities, air pollution, and climate change. Not only does this affect the mobility patterns of women, it also influences their children, sealing the fate of an unsustainable future.

Without transport systems that meet the needs of women, the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved. Women who cannot afford a private vehicle are forced to use unsafe public transport are exposed to other dangers faced by vulnerable road users. Combined with high vehicle speeds, a lack of protective infrastructure for pedestrians puts women and children at further risk.

Speaking alongside representatives of the Institute for Transport and Development Policy (ITDP), Humanity & Inclusion (HI), UN Habitat and the Huariou Commission, Natalie Draisin highlighted the scale of the epidemic for women in cities in both high and low and middle-income countries. Polling attendees about their own experiences of public transport revealed that while nearly all had experienced some form of harassment, very few had reported the incident. Those who had contacted the authorities did not find their complaints adequately handled.

The reaction in the room laid bare the scale of the issue for women globally, supporting the findings of the FIA Foundation’s Safe and Sound report. In New York City, 96% of sexual harassment cases and 86% of sexual assaults go unreported; in Baku, Azerbaijan none of the 162 of 200 women surveyed who experienced harassment reported it to the authorities; in Egypt 83% of nationals and 98% of foreign women experience harassment in public spaces, but only 2.4% and 7.5% reported it, respectively.

Further research produced with the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), Ella Se Mueve Segura (She Moves Safe), explores women’s mobility in three Latin American Cities: Quito, Ecuador; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Santiago, Chile. Natalie Draisin outlined key findings: More women than men feel unsafe across all three cities; The worst rates were in Buenos Aires, where 72% of women feel unsafe, and 89% of women interviewed had experienced sexual harassment; Women actively avoid public transport where they perceive the risk of harassment to be too high; Seven out of 10 women in Buenos Aires will not travel alone on public transport, showing how unsafe public transport limits women.

The UN Habitat session called for innovative solutions. CAF and the FIA Foundation developed a toolkit to help cities accurately assess their transport planning, to understand how women travel, and better meet their needs. In turn, cities can promote sustainable transport to achieve sustainable development and inclusive cities. Key recommendations include ensuring more women are employed in the transport sector, and better reporting systems with data policymakers can use to improve operations and penalise offenders.