Is Public Commute Gender Inclusive?: Access, Safety, And Utility Of Our Transport Infrastructure

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) in its recent exchange with the press, released the findings from the Gender Inclusive Future Transport (GIFT) project, an initiative by the UK Government, MMRDA, and, WRI India. The findings are intended to be leveraged by MMRDA for understanding the convergences and divergences in mobility needs of commuters from a gendered perspective – a paradigmatic initiative that could change the way people commute, for the better. 

But why is a gendered approach to commuting important? For starters, the making of public spaces is contingent upon each section of the society having equal access to spaces that are deemed public. Mobility is one of the major factors that shape this decision. Among the many facets of commuting that the report throws light on, two are quite interesting from a gendered perspective: the motives of usage, the perceived safety of the commute, and the economics of mobility.

An analysis of metro usage needs throws some interesting light upon the gender norms of performance. While men use the metro for work and social visits, it appears that caregiving tasks still fall to women, who often use it for caregiving activities such as shopping, doctor visits, etc. About 76 percent of women and 64 percent of men reported having traveled with dependents on the metro, and made suggestions for priority access at the ticketing and security counters, along with reserved seating, while traveling with dependents.

Mobility is a social issue. The discussion needs to move beyond data, and reach the public, in a way that the story of data gets space to be embedded within individual narratives of needs and end goals. Men have been planning urban spaces for men, for a long time. However, as the composition of “public” moves beyond cis-gendered straight men, it is time that the same is reflected in the sensibilities of public policy and development schemes

On the question of safety, 35 percent of women feel unsafe using the metro after dark, viz a viz, 19 percent of men. But what is more actionable, from a policy perspective, is that 65 percent of women as against 48 percent of men find the commute to and from metro stations unsafe. The economic implication of looking for a “safer” end-to-end commute is that women incur 21 percent more transportation expenses, viz a viz men. The economics of commuting is increased for women because of caregiving needs where often, the exclusive burden of commuting with dependents and other duties of housekeeping, become their responsibility. 

Palak, a student at the Delhi University says that public transport is her lifeline for her daily commute from home to college, as well as coaching. Upon asking if the metro can be made safer, she says, “The Delhi Metro needs to be made better and safer, especially at night. The frequency of the metros reduces at night, which means waiting for a long time on the platform. This makes it highly unsafe for female students who are traveling back to their homes, hostels, pgs, etc. This can be improved by increasing the frequency of the trains and also by increasing security on the platforms and stations.” 

Delhi metro: Will free public transport make women safer? - BBC News
Image: BBC

Public transportation: Gender blindness and implications

The World Bank and World Resources Institute, during the transforming transportation 2018 conference, cites that transportation is not gender-neutral. The conference noted, “Women represent the largest share of public transport users around the world, yet, they face many barriers that limit their mobility.

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In developing countries, safety concerns and limited access to transport reduce the probability of women participating in the labour market by 16.5 percent, which has serious consequences on the economy. This finding has significant implications, for a country like ours where women’s participation in the workforce is in a state of constant decline owing to the nexus between attitudinal and societal norms.

Transportation’s inclusivity is a structural issue, within the scope of the state. Its gendered building, while on one hand allows greater accessibility and mobility for women, is only half the story. Public spaces have long been inaccessible to oppressed communities for socio-economic reasons. However, urban spaces to some extent, allow the camouflaging of many social indicators, thus, enabling access to public spaces for individuals from marginalised gender and social identities.

While the fact that people must camouflage themselves to access public spaces is problematic and requires consistent campaigning for inclusivity, the issue is compounded the most for those communities whose markers of “atypicality” manifest in their physical being. Queer communities, particularly trans people, identifiable often by their deviation from the “normal body” are subjected to harassment and hostile travelling experiences.

Women’s journeys are seen as optional leisure activities,” said Clara Greed, emeritus professor of inclusive urban planning at the University of the West of England, Bristol. This perception cannot be further from the truth. Upon asking working women who use Delhi’s free buses if the waived ticket allows them to do any ‘Dilli Darshan’, they quipped, “Bahar aur ghar ke kaam ke baad, kahan time hi milta hai”. (After the work outside and at home, where is time to travel for fun?)

Ann James, a social worker, upon asking how can transportation be queer-inclusive says, “While I do not believe there should be separate transportation options for queer people or even for cis-gender women for it leads to an othering of sorts, for queer individuals, I do think that transportation can play a big role in sensitising people about homosexuality and queer culture. Their public presence goes a great league forward in aiding this. For instance, in Kerala, trans women work at metro stations. They sit at ticket centers and security-checking sections. So in this way, we are showing people that transwomen are just like you and me. We all are made up of the same flesh and bone.”

Also read: What Is It Like To Ride Public Transport As A Trans Person In India?

Localising the global way

Women’s journeys are seen as optional leisure activities,” said Clara Greed, emeritus professor of inclusive urban planning at the University of the West of England, Bristol. This perception cannot be further from the truth. Upon asking working women who use Delhi’s free buses if the waived ticket allows them to do any ‘Dilli Darshan’, they quipped, “Bahar aur ghar ke kaam ke baad, kahan time hi milta hai”. (After the work outside and at home, where is time to travel for fun?).

Men and women in transport live in different worlds”, Greed notes. While this mandate has dictated the logic of urban planning for long, for instance, greater space for automobile mobility viz a viz pedestrian movement, the questions of sustainable transportation have forced an examination of the skewed gender dynamics of urban planning within Europe, which often favors car drivers, more often than not men, over pedestrians, more often than not women.

Transportation, undoubtedly stands at the center of such revision, for it constitutes a socio-economic lifeline for people. Futuristic transportation is not flying or self-driving cars such as the ones in sci-fi movies. It is inclusive transportation that makes roads equally usable by pedestrians and cars, buses and metros, accessible to women and individuals from marginalised gender and social identities, without the fear of sexual harassment or anticipated violence

While Paris aims to ensure that residents have all necessary services within 15 minutes by foot, bike, or public transit, Barcelona is restricting traffic to major roads. Austria this year, is rolling out nationwide access to public transport for a flat annual fee of 3 euros ($3.60) a day.

The logic of this urban planning is better understood when one looks at Ramboll’s data on commuting, which shows that more men use cars and bicycles to commute, while women are more likely to use the metro, bus, or walk. Carolynn Look and Elisabeth Behrmann, make an important observation about the differences in modes of commuting, “The issue is more complex than cars versus bikes. In some cities, women cycle less, likely because lanes aren’t wide or secure enough, especially with kid carriers — underscoring the importance of transport design.”

Disaggregated data is only one side of the coin. There is an incumbent need to humanise and contextualise this data for an inclusive transportation mechanism that makes space for all.

Delhi metro: India's largest subway reopens with masks and distancing - BBC  News
Image: BBC

Mobility is a social issue. The discussion needs to move beyond data, and reach the public, in a way that the story of data gets space to be embedded within individual narratives of needs and end goals. Men have been planning urban spaces for men, for a long time. However, as the composition of the “public” moves beyond cis-gendered straight men, it is time that the same is reflected in the sensibilities of public policy and development schemes.

Transportation, undoubtedly stands at the center of such revision, for it constitutes a socio-economic lifeline for people. Futuristic transportation is not flying or self-driving cars such as the ones in sci-fi movies. It is inclusive transportation that makes roads equally usable by pedestrians and cars, buses and metros, accessible to women and individuals from marginalised gender and social identities, without the fear of sexual harassment or anticipated violence.

Also read: Free Public Transport For Trans Women: Tamil Nadu Addresses Inclusivity In Public Life


Featured Image Source: News18

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3 COMMENTS

  1. During racial oppression in South Africa, black people were forced to leave seats for white people. Today, men are forced to leave seats for women. Why are seats reserved for women on buses and metros? Why must a man give up his seat for a woman? Why don’t women give up their seats for men? Women don’t even give up their seats for pregnant women! They expect a man to leave his seat for a pregnant woman.

  2. Majority of murder victims are men. Men are killed for their wallet. It is not safe for men to be out late at night.

  3. On DTC buses, women shamelessly occupy reserved seats as well as general seats, and then they don’t even have the courtesy to leave their seats for the disabled, elderly, pregnant, or children. I have seen women occupy an entire seat with their handbag. In many cases, women actually ask men to leave (non-reserved) seats in buses, metros, trains, clinics, waiting areas, and other public places. I have never seen a man ask a woman to leave her seat. Sometimes women will even start a drama and create a scene if a man does not leave his seat. Princess complex.

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