Make transport more accessible to women to boost labour and the economy

If you have ever witnessed a woman struggle to move a pram up and down the stairs at a metro station, you will have seen firsthand how many transport systems were not designed with women in mind. But by making transport easier, safer, and more convenient, countries will be empowering their female citizens to find jobs outside of home and give a big boost to the economy.

“Many women would like to work outside of home if they can find a job that is suitable, based on circumstances; how to get there; the facilities they work in,” said Elisabetta Gentile, Economist at ADB. She was speaking at a recent webinar on gender equality in transport, hosted by ADB Transport.

ADB notes that “transport infrastructure and services are often incorrectly considered “gender neutral”,” when in fact, “mobility is experienced differently by women and men”. Policymakers must consider that in many parts of the world, women are more constrained than men in physical mobility due to safety and social norms, Gentile explained.

In some countries, a woman only leaves the house with her husband or a male relative. And as women all over the world can relate, many would not get on a bus or a train if they do not feel safe among the other passengers on board. It is important for policymakers to take these factors into account when designing policies moving forward.

Better transport starts with better data

Creating more accessible modes of transport starts and ends with collecting good data. But right now, “there are almost no transport data collected or broken down by gender,” said Mario Barreto, Lead Statistician and the International Transport Forum (ITF).

To bridge this gap, countries must focus their transport data collection efforts on gathering

gender data on vehicle drivers; passengers on public transport trips; distance of travel; and if possible, the date and time of trips.

And where meaningful gender data doesn’t exist, there are alternative sources that could be helpful Barreto pointed out. For instance, mobile network operators could provide a gender breakdown of mobility patterns. National registers can provide some information on gender, like car ownerships and driving licenses. The same can be said for car insurance companies, or public transport travel cards, according to him.

“Some countries have even made it mandatory that any new project must address the gender issue,” Barreto continued. “This is an important step to start integrating solutions, and laying the foundation, step by step, of rich data.”

More women in the transport workforce

Another great starting point is to have more women working within transport systems themselves. Wei-Shiuen Ng, Advisor for Sustainable Transport and Global Outreach at the International Transport Forum, remarked how “having a more diverse transport workforce would actually help develop more equitable transport services”.

But there is a lot of work to be done in this area. She noted how only 17% of the transport workforce globally is female, according to 2018 figures. What’s more, this is “not universal across different regions of the world — in Asia, the percentage is a lot lower”, said Ng.

Ng is currently working on a gender analysis toolkit for transport policies, helping transport policymakers to view transport systems through a gender lens. The aim is to “help improve gender mainstreaming in transport”, Ng explained.

The toolkit will allow policymakers to analyse the different impact of the same transport policies on women and men.This would “require the collection of gender disaggregated data or gender sensitive data”, Ng continued.

One observation that would surface very quickly would be that “every element or every datapoint that has to do with behaviour has a gender dimension”, Ng emphasised. “That includes travel distance, travel time, mode, or purpose of trip.”

Gender-responsive and socially inclusive design

In this area, ADB is actively working with countries such as the Philippines to ensure that transport systems cater to women as much as men, in all their diversities. One example is the $2.75bn Malolos-Clark Railway project, said Claire Luczon, Gender Consultant for the Southeast Asia Department (SERD) of ADB.

Luczon explained that during project design stage, the ADB gender team worked with the Department of Transportation (DOTr) Gender and Development Focal Point System (GAD-FPS) for Rail in conducting the gender analysis and identifying measures for the Gender Action Plan (GAP) for the upcoming railway.

This collaboration led to the introduction of many gender-responsive features in the railway infrastructure. “There is a 1-to-2 ratio of male to female toilets; accessible toilets for persons with disabilities; all-gender toilets that may be used by transgender people; breastfeeding rooms; diaper changing facilities in both male and female toilets, private rooms for processing sensitive commuter complaints; glass elevators to discourage harassment acts,” Luczon shared.

She went on to share a small success that emerged from this project. The project GAP provided also for the establishment of a mechanism to prevent and respond to gender-based violence during project implementation and operation and maintenance. Based on this GAP requirement, the DOTr PMO gender team created the North-South Railway Extension Project (NSCR-Ex) Gender-Based Violence Guidelines (GBV), which will utilize existing local mechanisms to respond to reported cases of GBV. Prior to this, the GAP also made use of the Guidelines and Standards in Measuring the Gender Responsiveness of the Rail Sector Programs, Services and Facilities, drafted by the DOTr GAD-FPS. “The lesson here is to make use of the existing GAD mechanisms and expertise within the partner agency and maximize, support and strengthen them through the project,” Luczon said.

No one should be prevented from finding good jobs, simply because they cannot travel to them safely and conveniently. With better data collection methods and gender-responsive recommendations, we can move the needle and improve the livelihoods of many. — Nurfilzah Rohaidi

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Asian Development Bank - Transport

Asian Development Bank - Transport

Supporting the development of low-carbon, safe, accessible and affordable transport systems for Asia and the Pacific. Follow for #sustainabletransport insights