CARBON NEUTRAL TRANSPORT ISN’T GENDER NEUTRAL
In transport, as in so many other domains, the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed deep-rooted differences, inequalities, and discriminations. Alongside the confusion and hardship brought on by global crisis, the experience has shed much needed light on the ways that socio-economic and natural systems interact with each other and create unequal impacts. Post-Covid recovery strategies can tackle the problems revealed and exacerbated by the pandemic, or amplify them; this depends on the depth of our understanding and the policies we choose to adopt.
As the world seeks to decarbonise transport, we have to recognise that transport system design and use are not gender neutral, and nor are the causes and impacts of climate change. To create an inclusive and sustainable transport system, these gender dimensions need to be understood and addressed.
Research reveals important patterns which may prove pivotal in the movement towards sustainable transport. ITF analysis shows that women tend towards more sustainable modes of travel than men, walking and using public transport more. Other research suggests that women also tend to have stronger preferences for more sustainable products and services. They thus have powerful motives and influence to become agents of change in transport.
Although women and men share roads, trains and buses, women’s travel behaviour is often not taken into consideration in transport planning. For example women, more than men, tend to prefer flexible modes of travel that facilitate trip chaining. Further, since women perform most of the unpaid care work many families depend on, they travel more with children and other dependents. This pattern reveals the nuances of transport requirements, which are largely overlooked due to gender data bias. Anyone who has struggled to usher small children, along with the ton of stuff they need, up public transport stairs or onto a bus can confirm that this endeavour is rarely accommodated in the design of transport infrastructure, services and vehicles.
Despite the social and personal necessity for women to use public transport, they also feel less safe and secure in public spaces. In certain contexts, such as in the evenings, this complicates their usage of public transport and more flexible modes of transport including shared mobility, or cycling and walking. In addition to imposing a financial penalty, this ultimately limits women and girls’ access and choice regarding education, jobs, health and other services. To make matters worse, the complicated relationship between women and the public transport they depend on has been hit hard by cuts and restrictions imposed to fight Covid, with many operators reducing their services by 50% or more during the crisis.
As we emerge from the disruption of the pandemic with a better understanding of both longstanding and new inequalities, we must seize this moment to reconsider the systems which shape peoples’ lives. Transport planners and policy makers have a responsibility to address women’s mobility needs and provide a safer space for women in public transport. This will encourage women to keep public transport as their first choice in the aftermath of the pandemic, simultaneously elevating social interests on the basis of gender and the pursuit of a sustainable future in transport.
Accurate and appropriately focused data is needed to make this goal a reality. Well-designed low-carbon transport policies that will meet emission reductions goals and improve gender equality require a strong foundation in research and data. Gendered analysis help assess whether specific gender needs are met properly. In the context of urban travel, understanding what it is that women want from cities, and identifying how this translates into a vision for sustainable urban transport, should be at the heart of public policy. This will require much finer, differentiated knowledge of travel behaviour and people’s needs than has been the case in the past. New data sources can help develop that knowledge base.
Alongside data, diverse leadership is needed to ensure solutions that are both sustainable and inclusive. Increasing the representation and visibility of women at all stages of transport policy, planning, implementation, and usage of transport projects will make transport more responsive to the needs of all users and increase the sustainability of transport development.
All transport stakeholders have a responsibility to make transport both accessible and sustainable. Transport policy and travel system design must adapt to recognize the intersecting importance of both gender and climate action. The existing inequalities for women in travel can be addressed through careful research, gendered analysis and corresponding action. By repositioning to prioritize overlooked groups while elevating the interests of society and the environment as a whole, we can ensure that transport moves towards a sustainable future.
The International Transport Forum’s (ITF) work on gender in transport addresses gender issues in the sector to benefit not only women but all transport users. By working with public and private sector partners, international organisations and academia, the ITF is engaged in evidence-based policy improvement that will contribute to more sustainable and inclusive transport.
As a part of its participation in the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow on 31 October – 12 November 2021, the ITF will organise a stakeholder event that that will further explore the linkages between gender equality, transport and climate change.
More on ITF work on gender and transport: ITF work on Gender in Transport | ITF (itf-oecd.org)
Manager, Institutional Relations and Summit
International Transport Forum (ITF) at the OECD