How designing public transport that ensures women’s safety can boost the Indian economyRusha Sen
It is important to mainstream gender-related considerations into road transport projects to improve development effectiveness, sustainability, and to reduce gender inequality.
The increase in women’s participation in the workforce has led to a pronounced effect on the economy across the world. In India, women and girls constitute 50 percent of the urban population. The Indian Census of 2011 was the first time mobility data was recorded in an official survey. According to the Census, women and girls comprise merely 19 percent of “other workers” and 84 percent of their trips are in the forms of public, intermediate public and non-motorised modes of transport. While 73 percent of trips by “other workers” in urban areas is through sustainable modes of transport, women and girls’ share is only 14 percent.
According to the McKinsey Global Institute, if women played an equal role in the labour markets, USD 28 trillion could be added to the global economy by 2025. In this scenario, USD 2.9 trillion can be added to the annual GDP of India in 2025. Yet, in urban India, the workforce participation rate for females is 25.51 percent against 53.26 percent for males. A big reason could be that transport or mobility plans often do not take to consideration the needs of women and their safety, security, and comfort. Women decline employment opportunities that are far from their homes in favour of lower-paid, local opportunities. This is due to the dearth of reliable and affordable public transport solutions. Safe, comfortable, and convenient transport not only contributes to fulfilling women’s practical needs, including access to schools and markets but also contributes to their strategic empowerment by facilitating access to social and economic opportunities. Gender-based violence and harassment often result in forced immobility and duress when travelling.
Studies conducted in India by organisations like Jagori have demonstrated that women face harassment not only at night or in secluded spaces but also during the day. A 2010 study of over 5,000 men and women conducted in Delhi showed that women and girls faced high levels of sexual harassment in public transport, buses, and at roadsides. About one in three women worldwide have experienced violence in their lifetime, according to global estimates published by the World Health Organisation. As many as 51.4 percent of the women surveyed for the Jagori study reported that they were harassed while using public transport, while 49 percent of the men reported that they witnessed women being harassed. Women and girls fear using crowded public transport – this is a space where women often face sexual harassment as the crowd offers anonymity. This has led to interventions such as women-only carriages in metro trains or women-only buses. The consequences of the violence and insecurity faced by women, unfortunately, leads to forced immobility.
The transport needs of women and men vary, owing to their different social and economic roles and activities. The constraints experienced by women in accessing, using and paying for transport services are largely different from that of men. Transport can play a cardinal role in ameliorating the living conditions of women and therefore it is important to mainstream gender-related considerations into road transport projects to improve development effectiveness, sustainability, and to reduce gender inequality.
Several measures can be taken to improve gender inclusion in public transport.
Gender policy dimensions for transport projects
It is imperative to enhance gender awareness needs at all levels of government to ensure that the national gender policy is incorporated in transport policies and planning. A multi-sectoral framework for addressing gender can be very effective and should be equipped with technical support from gender experts well versed with the transport sector. Data on user needs and access constraints must to be gender-disaggregated and collected through routine transport project monitoring and evaluation processes. In cases where data on routine measures is not gender disaggregated or unavailable, capacity building might be essential. The social and cultural context of gender differences that are affecting and affected by transport need to be analysed at household and community level. This can include the number of hours devoted to social, economic, and household-related tasks. The transport interventions designed to alleviate the transport burdens of women can be ineffective if this knowledge is not provided.
Evaluating gender trip patterns and mobility constraints
Transport provides access to employment, childcare, and education to women. Women tend to make trips that are complex and higher in number in comparison to men, in urban as well as rural areas. This makes the trip more expensive for them as they have to pay numerous single-fare tickets during a chained trip. As women’s travel is characterised by trip chaining, the most predominant mode of travel for low-income women in developing countries is walking. The transportation costs can make transportation - especially public transport - fairly prohibitive, with women spending a higher share of their income on average than men. Designing options to improve the affordability of public transport could include the use or increase in subsidies in order to reduce fares or increase services and the provision of integrated fare. The right combination of fares and service quality has to be selected in order to address women’s needs and constraints adequately.
Ensuring safe accessibility
The construction of exclusive sidewalks as components of the road and public transport improvement projects satisfy the travelling needs by increasing pedestrian accessibility and safety. It is imperative to incorporate design features that focus on safe pedestrian design such as bike parking facilities, speed bumps, traffic lights, and pedestrian safety islands. New and rehabilitated footpaths should be designed to separate vehicles and people. Also, there should be a distinction between the inclusion of pedestrian signals and footbridge connections wherever necessary. Intermediate means of transport (IMTs) such as rickshaws, bicycles, mopeds, and motorcycles can provide women with more flexible routes, schedules, and lower fares. Motorised two-wheeled transport is more affordable than cars and provides flexibility and convenience in crowded traffic conditions. There should be a physical separation between motorised and non-motorised road users as well as proper pedestrian crossing and traffic signage. Traffic calming measures (speed bumps, traffic lights, signs). public traffic safety education and safety equipment like helmets should be adopted.
Addressing personal safety concerns
Safety design measures that can respond to women’s safety concerns include good lighting and landscaping at transit stops and along roadways to replace dark empty spaces with shops and public presence. The measures also involve surveillance cameras, emergency phones, panic/alarm buttons, and recruitment of uniformed and non-uniformed officers to patrol public buses and stops. Additionally, women-only services, improved security personnel presence, and employment of female conductors and drivers on mass transit are steps to improve women’s safety. In India, women-only subways, buses and train cars have been introduced to combat sexual aggression and harassment. Women-only taxis have entered the market as well.
At present, women are particularly under-represented in India’s economy with respect to their potential. At 17 percent, India has a lower share of women’s contribution to GDP than the global average of 37 percent and the lowest among all regions in the world. Women perform 9.8 times the amount of unpaid care work in comparison to men. If that unpaid work were valued and compensated in the same process as paid work, it would contribute USD 0.3 trillion to India’s economic output. A fair proportion of this unpaid work may be performed willingly but it neither translates into wage-earning opportunities for women nor promotes their financial independence. If the non-market work was substituted with market-based work, then the GDP would have increased. This attributes to the fact that GDP assigns the value to only market-based production. Equitable sharing of unpaid work among men and women coupled with productivity-enhancing measures for unpaid work could lead to higher GDP only when the time saved by women was utilised to engage in paid work. India’s economy would have the highest relative boost among all nations in the world if women participated in paid work in the market economy on a similar basis to that of men thereby effacing the current gaps in labour-force participation rates, hours worked and representation within sectors.
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