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Advancing gender mainstreaming in transport, health and environmental policies in the Pan-European Region

Women in public transport

Despite decades of discussions on the challenges and intersections between gender and transport, progress has been slow in implementing a gender perspective in transport policies. This has been problematic, for example, in urban planning which fails to recognise the different travel patterns between different genders, having an adverse impact on the mobility of women. Progress has been even slower for policies integrating the health and environmental aspects despite several studies demonstrating how transport policies, if including a gender perspective, can also be beneficial for the environment. In acknowledgement of some of these issues, the Transport, Health and Environment Programme (THE PEP) is seeking to integrate a gender perspective into its work.  

side-event to the Fifth High-Level Meeting on Transport, Health and Environment organized on 10 May by UNECE explored some of the issues regarding gender and transport. In a study co-authored by one of the speakers at the event, women and caregivers were found to take more complex routes than men, and they often have multiple purposes within one trip. This is usually undertaken by public transport or walking. With this in mind, women’s mobility choices are affected by the safety, security, affordability, reliability and efficiency of such transport services. If these issues are not addressed, women may feel unable to use mobility services and are thus excluded from undertaking daily activities, travelling for employment opportunities or simply travelling for leisure. Improving security features with lighting, crowdsourced information on safe areas and women-only taxis can all be methods to increase women’s ability to utilise mobility services for their needs.  

A lack of disaggregated data was also highlighted as a key issue by many experts and academics. A vast amount of data is not disaggregated by gender, making it difficult to understand the mobility patterns and needs of women. Furthermore,  women are not a homogenous group, and there are compounding issues that must be viewed from a more nuanced lens. For instance, women living in rural or poorly-serviced areas have less access to mobility, which limits their ability to fulfil their daily needs and participate fully in society. However, data that goes beyond disaggregation by gender is even more difficult to obtain. 

Another challenge for transport policies is that, whilst they may be environmentally friendly, they may end up benefitting men more than women. For instance, car use is more limited for women, especially those living in a single car household where the man is usually the primary user. A study on Gender Equality in the Field of Transport within Serbia’s new Transport Strategy found that men drive a car on 40% of their trips, whilst women only drive on 16% of theirs. Moreover, women are more frequently passengers in cars  than men in the country, at 16% of trips for women in contrast to 6% for men. Such studies demonstrate that subsidies for electric cars may benefit the environment but may not aid women who usually use other mobility alternatives.  

A good practice example can be seen from Guadalajara, Mexico, where the local government supported over 10,000 single mothers in marginalised areas by giving them subsidies for trips and free use of the public bike system. This not only boosted a sustainable method of transport but also ensured safe mobility.   

Developing transport policies in a way that takes into consideration a gender perspective can only be done with the participation of women. Bringing women to the table to actively lead change, and to ensure equal representation in planning and decision making at all levels, is imperative in the transport and mobility industry. Indeed, women only make up about a fifth of the workforce in the transport industry in the EU. Such considerations start at the level of education, and accelerating equal gender representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and other related disciplines can stimulate equal representation in the transport industry. However, participation in employment in the transport industry alone is not enough; policies and laws must also be implemented with a gender perspective. 

Gender Impact Assessments have been stressed as a preventative tool to question whether a law, policy or programme reduces, maintains or increases the inequalities between men and women. This is especially necessary for policies where gender implications might not be as clear cut to detect unintended impacts on gender equality. Gender Impact Assessments can be used as a benchmark before deciding to fund research and development projects, or they can be integrated within Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans which are important to tackle transport-related problems in cities in an environmentally friendly way. Gender Impact Assessments are a nuanced and holistic way to realise and prevent the harmful impacts that policies may have on women and, if properly utilised, could eventually gain the level of acceptance and importance of Environmental Impact Assessments, which are a well-accepted practice and mandatory in many countries. Having such robust preventative tools would help to develop more sustainable and equal policies and programmes. 

Gender mainstreaming is a key objective of UNECE in all its activities. Relevant policy documents include the UNECE Policy on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, the UN System-wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and its Gender Parity Strategy. In her address to the High-Level Meeting, UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova stressed that in traditionally male-dominated fields like transport, the achievement of gender equality is still a long way off, especially in senior positions. She also highlighted that equal pay for equal work is still an issue since, despite progress in recent years, no country has achieved equality in earnings between men and women in the region.  

She concluded: “We must prioritize inclusiveness and equality – including gender equality – as we make our transport systems more sustainable. I call on all governments of the region and all sectors to translate the vision of the Vienna Declaration into concrete action in this field.” Implementing gender mainstreaming in the work of THE PEP could make an important contribution to driving forward the changes needed. 

The recording of the side event can be found here:   

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