Making Transport Safer for Women
Women making strides on public transport. By ¡Carlitos.

Women making strides on public transport. Photo by ¡Carlitos.

When the lack of safety for women in transport makes headlines

December’s brutal gang rape and assault with an iron bar that caused fatal internal injury to a 23-year-old student on a public bus in New Delhi has caused nationwide riots in India and sparked an international outcry against the lack of safety for women in India. But the horrifying incident also highlights a global issue facing women on a daily basis: a lack of adequate security for women and girls on public transport. There are thousands of stories, told and untold, of harassment, rape, and violence against women on public transport around the world. Even in India, still rocked by protests calling for better security for women, at least two more gang rapes of young women on public buses have been reported in the last weeks. 

More “developed” nations are not immune to violence against women on public transport either. In November 2012, an 18-year-old woman, who was described as developmentally disabled, was raped on a public bus in Los Angeles, while the driver continued along the route. It was the third rape in the county bus system last year, according to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. And in 2011, a woman in Nottingham, England, was forced off a public bus at 3 am in the morning, after coming up 20 pence short of the £5 fare. She was raped as she walked along the road, according to a BBC report, while waiting for her mother to pick her up. According to a report by Next City, a woman was abducted at gunpoint last year from a Chicago Transit Authority train and taken by two men to an apartment, where she was raped. In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a border city notorious for systematic and brutal violence against women including torture, rape, and murder, female workers report that the most dangerous part of their day is waiting for the bus to get to and from work, where men in cars kidnap women or wait at the main bus terminal in town, where men come and “pick” their victims from the hundreds of women getting on and off buses.

Gender issues in mobility are vastly ignored around the globe

Public transportation is inherently safer in terms of traffic accidents than private transport, but for women, who rely on public transportation more than men and make up more than half of public transportation users on a global level, public transport is less safe in terms of violent assault. Despite the evidence that public transport is not meeting the safety needs of women, women´s safety is not a priority for the majority of service providers. According to UCLA’s Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, whose latest study looks at what makes women riders feel unsafe (and thus decide not to ride transit), women have particular needs as transit riders, especially with respect to safety and security. She says her survey of U.S. transit agencies with more than 50 public transportation vehicles revealed that, although two-thirds of respondents believed that women travelers have specific needs, only one-third felt that transit agencies should really do something about it. “The most shocking part of that survey,” she noted, “was that only 3% of the agencies had programs in place for women.”

The first step toward making public transportation safer for women and girls is holding transportation providers accountable for making their systems safer for women: from national government agencies and city planners to bus drivers and city police. For example, the New Delhi bus where the fatal gang rape occurred was running illegally — it had been impounded six times in the past two years. District authorities repeatedly fined the operator (the main suspect in the gang rape case) 2,200 rupees (about $40 USD) and handed the vehicle back each time. Some have blamed the Delhi government`s transportation department for being corrupt and ultimately responsible for the brutal attack, and are calling for the dismissal of the transport minister. In Mexico, women in the city of Juarez say they have been asking city planners to improve bus stops and service in marginalized areas for years, with no success. Meanwhile, hundreds of women and girls have disappeared from city streets, their bodies found mutilated and dumped in the desert, if they are found at all. Corruption, indifference to women´s needs, and lack of concern for public transit riders — who often live in marginalized areas or are part of a low-income demographic — lays the foundation for a system that works against women.

Demand safer transport for the women in our lives and around the globe

We here at EMBARQ Mexico are proposing a “Safe Transport for Women Initiative” and would love to hear ideas of how other regions of the world would like to be involved. Our list of demands for transportation providers are as follows:

We demand that public transportation authorities recognize the gender differences and needs of their ridership.

We demand that safe and effective public transportation is made available for women of all socio-economic classes.

We demand that public transportation providers, from government agencies to transportation operators, be held accountable for providing safe transport for women.

We demand that public transportation providers, from government agencies to transportation operators, be held accountable for acts of violence against women while using public transport

We demand that public transportation providers include women in the transportation planning process in order to address and meet their needs.

By working to bring high-quality public transport to women of all socio-economic classes, EMBARQ Mexico seeks to inspire women to take the wheel in the development of public transportation in their own communities, and empower them reach their destinations, in life and in their careers. 

The author encourages feedback, comments, and questions from readers.

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