Two cities bridging the gender gap in transportation and the women leading it

Sina Zhen and Everica Rivera

Two cities bridging the gender gap in transportation and the women leading it

by ICLEI Sustainable Mobility | Originally published on 8 March 2022

This blog was written by Sina Zhen, Sustainable Mobility Officer, ICLEI World Secretariat, with contributions from Everica Rivera, Communications Officer, ICLEI World Secretariat

Across the world, cities are striving to achieve a more sustainable and equitable transportation network for all. Yet, the number of women in leadership positions is still minimal in the transportation sector and, even when in leadership roles, women often found themselves continuing to battle the same stereotypes that made it so difficult for them to secure their positions in the first place.

In honor of International Women’s Day and this year’s theme, #BreakingTheBias, we are looking back at the female leaders that presented at our COP 26 session Game On: City ambitions towards future-proof and equitable mobility systems and highlighting measures taken to advance transportation for women.

In the USA, women account for 15 percent of the transportation workforce, and similarly, only 22 percent of the labor force in transport se|

Gender and Mobility Differences

Women and men have different transport uses due to differences in social, economic, and physical factors. Women often have the primary responsibility in the household for childcare, care for an elderly or disabled relative, and for domestic work. They have different time use patterns and employment characteristics compared to men and fewer financial resources. Studies around the world have shown women are more likely to walk and take public transport as their means of transport. Since women’s travel patterns are more complex than men’s, these differences show the adverse consequences when transportation planning focuses primarily on commuting. As more women are entering the decision-maker roles, transportation planning networks are shifting less towards men commuting to work and are implementing policies aimed at improving gender equality such as favoring walking, cycling, and public transit.

Barcelona: Prioritizing people-centric design and gender-inclusion in mobility design 

During COP 26, Deputy Mayor of Barcelona, Janet Sanz, presented on Barcelona’s advances in decarbonizing transport and the transformation of public space, as well as gender urbanism – where mobility needs to integrate a gender perspective. The Deputy Mayor shared exemplary projects in Barcelona to bridge the gender gap, including:

  • The ‘superilles’, or ‘superblocks’ concept, where the city will pedestrianize squares with space to relax and socialize where there was once heavy traffic. Barcelona City Council will dedicate 25 million euros from European funds to further develop the superilles
  • Development of a sustainable mobility plan to promote biking and public transport where the city plans to double the bikes lanes from 120 to 272 km by 2023.
  • Construction of a tram line that will connect the city from east to west, which will reduce travel time from one side of the city to another in less than 20 minutes.
  • Action plan to encourage 75 percent of the city’s roads have a maximum speed of 30 km/h by installing radars and improving signage.

Sanz emphasized these projects as steps to equitable mobility as they benefit women, the elderly, children, and low-income residents who live in outlying areas but regularly commute to central districts. As Sanz states“What we do now is to prioritize people. The cultural change in mobility is already happening in Barcelona. This is a moment of opportunity rather than barriers, and if there is ambition and political will, change is possible.”

Recognizing the need for considering the gender perspective not only in mobility design but also in the leadership of transport companies and the public administration, there has been a growing presence of women in different decision-making positions within Barcelona Metropolitan Area (AMB). The City has had a Gender Justice Plan in place since 2016 – an action plan working towards the elimination of gender inequalities. This plan has raised awareness about gender equity through gathering gender-aggregated mobility data, incorporating a gender perspective in policy and planning, and training on mainstreaming the topic.

Buenos Aires: Reclaiming street space and closing the cycling gender gap 

Minister of Public Space and Urban Hygiene of Buenos Aires, Clara Muzzio, presented on the Climate Action Plan that the City has been developing, proposing various goals and environmental actions to achieve by 2050. Sustainable mobility actions include increasing the use of bicycles, walkability projects, and the transition to clean energy. These actions respond to the objective of generating a transformation in the mobility of citizens that improves their quality of life and is consistent with the goals established in terms of resilience, inclusiveness, and carbon neutrality.

The city saw a significant increase in cycling during the pandemic, rising from 3.2 percent to 10.7 percent by the end of 2020. The city seized this opportunity to add walking and cycling infrastructure, mainly by reclaiming street space previously dedicated to private cars. The bike world has long lamented the “gender gap” in cycling. The main issue is safety — women express that feeling unsafe keeps them from biking at the same rate as men. High-quality bike infrastructure helps close the gender gap. In European cities known for their bikeways, like Amsterdam and Paris, the gender gap is on parity. The current government in Buenos Aires has further expanded the public bike-sharing system towards peripheral areas of the city, providing lower-income citizens with an affordable and efficient transport alternative to move around the city.

Buenos Aires understands the harassment and violence that women face in public transportation as well as equity for women in other areas. The city’s Gender and Mobility Plan not only addresses gender inequality in the transport and mobility environment in planning, but also employment inclusion, mobility data, and awareness of gender issues, such as street harassment. Muzzio also highlighted the importance of including the poorest areas of the city in order to bring transportation options to these neighborhoods. “Nowadays in Buenos Aires, two bus lines now reach one of the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods, and the public bike-sharing system has also been extended to these areas. It is imperative to introduce a gender and equity perspective in the climate and mobility agenda,” states Muzzio.

The path to bridging the gap starts with inclusivity and empowerment

With the majority of public transport users being women, there must be a represented voice at the executive level to provide women the opportunity to shape a service that affects them more often than their male counterparts.

Transport systems can only become truly inclusive and gender-responsive if the voices, perspectives, and experiences of women are reflected at all levels in the sector. As more women enter the transport sector and uphold leadership positions, designing and planning for women is gaining importance and we are quickly seeing women redesigning our transport networks to be more livable and human-centric.

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Cover Photo of Buenos Aires from Unsplash: