Recently I spoke at the World Bank’s Transforming Transportation Summit in Washington DC. I was specifically asked to weigh in at a panel titled “Transport is not Gender-Neutral,” and I am given to understand that it is the first time that they had this focus on gender.
The #MeToo movement has certainly pushed the conversations on gender, gender equality and sexual harassment to the forefront of every event and organisation. It has forced people to think actively about gender and gender-related issues, including on transport, a system which is an integral part of so many people’s daily lives.
Women constitute most users of public transport around the world, yet their commute is rarely hassle-free. According to World Bank, some 80 percent of women are afraid of being harassed while using public transport. The International Labour Organisation “Women at Work” report states that in developing countries, safety concerns and limited access to transport reduces the probability of women participating in the labor market by 16.5 percent, with serious consequences on the economy. The global GDP could grow by an additional $5.8 trillion if the gender gap in male and female labor force participation is decreased by 25 percent by 2025.
Clearly men and women have different mobility patterns and needs, yet too often transport operators are gender-blind in their design and policies.
At Safecity, we conducted a series of audits with 600 respondents in Mumbai at railway stations, a high-density mode of transport. Some of the highlights of the study are:
- Extremely crowded areas were hotspots, especially during peak times of the work day.
- Touching and groping were the highest reported types of sexual harassment at several of the stations, followed by commenting and ogling/leering.
- Though people mentioned police with respect to seeking help, most didn’t officially report their experiences of sexual harassment. Our analysis showed that people who did try to report faced police apathy or lack of police presence when needed.
- Awareness of women-related legislation and the railways safety helplines was extremely poor. In cases where people knew about them, their knowledge was skeletal and/or incorrect.
- Less than 2 percent of people interviewed officially reported harassment, less than 7 percent were aware of legislation and less than 2 percent were aware of the railway helpline.
- With regards to the infrastructure, lighting was poor, toilets were not well maintained and access points were narrow thus adding to the perception risk of safety.
Widen the entry and exit points to de-congest the access ways and help keep a continuous movement of passenger traffic.
Some of the solutions we propose based on our study are:
- Widen the entry and exit points to de-congest the access ways and help keep a continuous movement of passenger traffic.
- Ensure visible security personnel of all genders. The number of security personnel must be increased with traffic flows and they must refrain from congregating at one spot but oversee multiple areas of the station, including the exit and entry points.
- Improve lighting throughout the station, especially at entry and exit points and immediately outside the stations.
- Make helpdesks more visible and well-staffed to ensure it is easy and hassle free to report harassment. Printed material with relevant information about reporting and the laws can be placed visibly at the helpdesk.
- Make helplines easily available for quick reporting. The numbers should be displayed widely and boldly across the system.
- Prohibit illegal parking outside stations to make more space that is free for movement and reduce the possibility of harassment hotspots.
- Create awareness campaigns on sexual harassment prevention with posters, wall art and the intercom system. These could be in line with the existing safety announcements about unclaimed items lying around or foot boarding on a train.
As you can see, most of the above solutions are easy and practical to implement. Through them, we can reduce the risk of sexual harassment and increase the comfort and perception of safety amongst women commuters. After all, don’t we want more women in public spaces using public transportation and being active contributors to the economy? It benefits everyone.