This morning’s plenary session on the second day of the Clinton Global Initiative was all about “Investing in Girls and Women.”
Moderated by acclaimed journalist Diane Sawyer, co-anchor of Good Morning America and Primetime, the discussion agenda focused on how “every problem in the world is exacerbated by gender inequality.” The claim is that women, compared to men, lack access to education, health care, jobs and political opportunities – and those barriers are ruinous for the health of global society. However, as the panelists noted, there are success stories of women who have overcome hardship and created change in their communities, and they serve as positive examples of how educated, empowered women not only improve their own situation, but also their family life, and ultimately, society at large.
The panel included the following participants:
Edna Adan, Director and Founder, Edna Adan Maternity and Teaching Hospital
Lloyd C. Blankfein, Chairman and CEO , The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.
Zainab Salbi, Founder and CEO , Women for Women International
Diane Sawyer, Co-anchor, “Good Morning America”; Co-anchor, “Primetime”
Rex Tillerson, Chairman and CEO, ExxonMobil
Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of State
Robert B. Zoellick, President, The World Bank Group
Lloyd C. Blankfein, Chairman and CEO , The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.
“No country can prosper if it leaves half its people behind,” Melanne Verveer says. “Investing in women is one of the most powerful forces for good that our world can unleash. Regrettably, much of it is still untapped.”
Zainab Salbi says there are three things that are necessary for the empowerment of women: 1) it’s critical for leaders to have political will to invest in women and girls, 2) women must be given the tools and opportunities to organize around issues they care about, and 3) society needs to collectively acknowledge the importance of women in dealing with global humanitarian, economic and environmental crises.
Although not explicitly stated in the panel, gender inequality permeates the transportation world. The problems female transit users face in cities around the world may not be entirely equivalent to the global atrocities of war, rape, or torture, but there are numerous studies that show women’s fear of victimization in transportation settings, like bus stops, and other public spaces. Also, transport policies often marginalize or ignore women, who have different travel patterns and behaviors than men but do not have access to adequate transit routes. And gender workforce segregation in the transit industry has also shown to be a detrimental factor to a city’s economy.
Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning at the UCLA School of Public Affairs, presented a study, “Is it Safe to Walk Here?“, about female bus passengers in Los Angeles, at the Transportation Research Board’s third Conference on Research on Women’s Issues in Transportation, held in Chicago in 2004.
“Compared to men, women are far more fearful…and if someone is very fearful she will not use transit if there are any other options,” she wrote. According to her surveys, 59 percent of women felt unsafe waiting for their bus compared with 41 percent of men. (Source: Institute of Transportation Studies)
The solution, Loukaitou-Sideris says, is to implement certain planning and design interventions to “help block opportunities for crime, instill feelings of safety, and thus facilitate physical activity.” These interventions include things like fixing broken windows, providing adequate lighting, eliminating “bad neighbors” like liquor stores, seedy motels and adult bookstores, designing mixed-use buildings that face the street to increase “natural surveillance,” creating safe “hang out” places, such as a senior citizen’s center or park bench, and finally, making sure that the routes leading to public spaces (i.e. sidewalks, parking lots, etc.) are also policed and protected.
A recent New York Times article shows how Indian women who frequently faced taunting and harassment by fellow male passengers are finally finding “peace” on their train commute, thanks to recent policies that established women-only cars.
In a pilot program, eight new commuter trains exclusively for female passengers have been introduced in India’s four largest cities: New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta.
The trains are known as Ladies Specials, and on one recent round trip in which a male reporter got permission to board, the women commuting between the industrial town of Palwal and New Delhi were very pleased.
“It’s so nice here,” said a teacher, Kiran Khas, who has commuted by train for 17 years. Ms. Khas said the regular trains were thronged with vegetable sellers, pickpockets, beggars and lots of men. “Here on this train,” she said, as if describing a miracle, “you can board anywhere and sit freely.”
IT’S A MAN’S WORLD
The problem is, no matter where in the world, “the present transport system has largely been constructed for men by men,” according to a working paper, “Promoting gender equality in transport,” published by the Equal Opportunities Commission in the U.K. This means transport policies do not always consider the differing travel needs of women vs. men.
For example, “roads for motorized transport often do not benefit rural women, who mainly work in and around the village and travel on foot,” the World Bank states in its “Transport and Gender Equality” briefing note. “Urban Transport Systems that transport people to and from employment centers are sometimes inadequate for women, who must combine income-generating activities with household and familial activities, such as taking children to school and health centers and visiting the market.”
Changing transportation infrastructure to benefit both sexes isn’t just about getting people from Point A to Point B, though. The World Bank emphasizes that “gender-responsive infrastructure interventions” also trickle down to other things: “[they] can free up women’s time, thereby increasing girls enrollment in schools and facilitating women’s participation in income-generation and decision-making activities.”
Women also experience unequal treatment as employees — not just customers — of the transport sector. There are high levels of “occupational segregation,” with few women occupying managerial positions and instead, they are heavily concentrated in lower-paid, lower-qualified jobs.
For example, “While more than 50% of Australia’s population is female, and women are significantly in the majority as public transport users, we are woefully under-represented in transport management, operations and service delivery,” writes Sharon Hanlon in her study of the Australian transit industry sector, “Where Do Women Feature in Public Transport?”
Hanlon continues: “Women are clearly underrepresented and, in essence, are still very much on the periphery rather than at the centre of public transport planning and provision.” And when women don’t have a seat at the decision-making table, they are less likely to influence the very policies that are necessary to ensure female transit passengers feel safe and secure, and to provide transit options that are reliable and accessible, especially for women who juggle multiple responsibilities and rely on public transportation to be productive, active members of society.
See these related posts on TheCityFix to read more about women’s role in transportation: