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The urban challenge of providing the right mobility solutions for women


Between going to work and performing family tasks, women tend to get around more than men. Yet, their go-to transport options are fraught with challenges.

According to France’s National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), 70% of French children are accompanied to school by their mother. As the division of household labour undergoes a shift, it is clear that gender roles stubbornly persist. A study published by the OECD on gender equality in transport has found that two-thirds of public transport users are women.

Specific mobility needs

Public transport isn’t always well suited to users with family and time constraints, but it tends to be the default option because it’s more affordable. A report by the French parliamentary delegation on women’s rights and gender equality confirms that people in vulnerable situations – women in particular – are more exposed to mobility challenges. The latter are more apt to have part-time jobs and work close to home so they can take care of their families, either children or elderly parents. Their mobility patterns differ from those of men because they tend to make shorter but more frequent trips and travel outside of rush hour.

Vulnerable conditions, limited access to car transport

The report also highlights the fact that men and women don’t have equal access to cars. Many women can’t afford to own one. And if the household owns a vehicle, it’s usually the man who uses it. Reduced car access has implications for women’s autonomy and social and occupational integration. The problem is more serious in rural areas where the private car is still the primary means of transport.

But owning a car isn’t necessarily the answer, as purchase, operating and maintenance costs are usually quite high. In some underprivileged areas where women account for 47% of the inactive population, some non-profit organisations offer to teach people to ride a bicycle or use an electric vehicle, such as a scooter, motor scooter or bike.

Making transport safer

Women make up two-thirds of commuters but are nevertheless more affected by safety concerns. According to one survey conducted among women, 100% of the respondents said they had been a victim of harassment in public transport. Public authorities and non-‑profits are exploring different ways to address the issue. In Brussels, for example, the NGO Garance has launched an initiative based on the idea of women conducting exploratory walks in neighbourhoods they know in order to recommend urban improvements for increasing safety.

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