8 March 2021

International Women’s Day: making sustainable mobility gender-sensitive

Ana Drăguțescu works as the Coordinator of the Sustainable Mobility and Transport team at ICLEI Europe. She has extensive experience supporting cities to ensure their mobility systems work for everyone.

Last year, as part of the overarching ‘SUMP 2.0’ process, Ana authored a Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning (SUMP) Topic Guide on “Addressing Gender Equity and Vulnerable Groups in SUMPs”. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Ana shares her perspective on how we can make sustainable mobility planning more gender-sensitive.

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Mobility and accessibility
Traditional transport planning focuses mostly – if not entirely – on mobility, while forgetting accessibility, especially in the cases of women and vulnerable groups.

Mobility refers to how we move between two destinations. The level of ease and the sustainability associated with trips taken to move people and goods within our cities is the focus of most work in this field. However, this often overlooks accessibility, which focuses on the quality of trips at the individual level. It relates to travel times and costs, to how useable, affordable and accessible options are, and the level of comfort and the risks associated with a trip. To encapsulate this in a thought, you could observe that mobility and accessibility interrelate like yin and yang.

Diverse user needs
Since the design of our transport systems influences the daily choices people make, planning must understand and take into account the diverse needs of all users across ages, genders, race, income levels, places of residence, and more. To better understand this diversity from a gender perspective, you have to understand the gendered differences in daily trips.

Behavioural patterns show that women travel differently in terms of trip routes, sequences and purposes. Women are still in charge of the largest share of care work (food shopping, taking care of children and older people, etc.) and this affects how they travel – namely, they tend to make shorter, but more frequent trips – and the modes they choose.

Behavioural patterns need to be well understood and accounted for, since men and women often still play different roles in society. Women tend to take trips between neighbouring districts instead of trips to the city centre, with greater reliance on public transport and on walking. Neglecting these gendered mobility preferences will only create barriers and limitations to the trips people must make.

What should we do?
We need to integrate gender-sensitive perspectives in the context of all eight SUMP principles and at every stage of the mobility planning process. Indeed, by involving women, we are far better placed to create affordable, reliable, inclusive and safe transport systems that ensure all people can reach their desired destinations – be it to access services, amenities or workplaces, or for leisure or caregiving purposes – easily, safely and comfortably. How can we achieve this and move towards gender-sensitive cities? Here are a few of my tips:

  • Design institutions in charge of planning to include various processes that ensure gender-sensitive planning. These must reflect in-depth understanding of the differences in the daily trips people take, as well as the need for good connectivity and reliable services across the entire ‘Functional Urban Area’ to avoid limiting access to jobs and services. They must serve to promote the implementation of gender-responsive schemes.
  • Involve women and grassroots organisations working on gender in planning and decision-making. Sustainable urban mobility planning is a fundamentally participatory process. Stakeholders, regardless of gender, have different priorities and perspectives and are affected in assorted ways by every measure implemented. To ensure that transport systems and long-term policymaking respond to women’s diverse experiences, needs, and concerns, gender experts and representatives of vulnerable groups must be engaged.
  • Use informed and disaggregated data as the basis for policymaking.
  • Use an integrated planning approach and draw on expertise in gender equity to avoid unconscious biases towards speed- and distance-based transport planning. Such biases are to the detriment of the walkability and proximity of services.
  • Monitor and evaluate using gender-informed perspectives – this enables cities to see if their measures are helping create gender-equitable places.

Cities taking steps towards gender equity
Thankfully, an increasing number of cities are successfully integrating gender perspectives into their planning. For example, in 2011, ICLEI Member Malmö (Sweden) integrated gender equality into its broader sustainable mobility work, hosting “dialogue meetings” with high school students, employees at places with predominantly female workforces, and others in order to engage them in public transport planning. The city also held focus group discussions with administrators and politicians on gender and public transport.

Another oft-cited example is the City of Vienna (Austria), which has decades of experience with gender mainstreaming. It has improved street lighting, adjusted traffic lights to prioritise pedestrians, widened pavements, and made several key areas ‘barrier-free’ to better accommodate prams and wheelchairs.

For its part, the City of Madrid (Spain) allows women and children who are travelling on night buses to request to stop at any point along the route. This helps shorten their journeys from the bus to their final destinations, thereby making their commute safer.

Help and resources are at hand
At first glance, the road towards gender-sensitive mobility planning may seem long and daunting. Yet help is at hand. The Topic Guide is a good starting point – it forms part of a compendium of guides and briefings that complement the recently updated European SUMP Guidelines. I also recommend this online session from Urban Mobility Days 2020 on gender perspectives in transport planning and the recent FIA Foundation report, “Counting women so women count”.

The theme of International Women’s Day this year is #ChooseToChallenge. By writing this Topic Guide and advising local authorities on how to adopt a gender-sensitive approach, I have challenged the status quo in the field. I invite all mobility and transport professionals to join me in this work.


The original op-ed was published by the CIVITAS Initiative. View that orginial post here.