‘Safe and Sound’: the challenge of ensuring a fair transport system

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The 'Safe and Sound' report.
The 'Safe and Sound' report.
Policymakers from across the world joined the webinar or participated at the Foundation’s London headquarters.
Policymakers from across the world joined the webinar or participated at the Foundation’s London headquarters.

Women and girls encounter high levels of harassment almost everywhere while using public transport, and this can act as a barrier to women’s mobility as well as to wider educational and economic opportunities, says a new report from the FIA Foundation. 

Safe and sound – International Research On Women's Personal Safety On Public Transport’, reports on the security of women in public transport. The report outlines how safe, secure and sustainable mobility for women plays an important role in empowering women and achieving wider social and economic development as defined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It also scopes the extent of harassment and identifies potential responses.

For many women, particularly in developing countries, public transport is their only choice of motorised transport. There are a growing number of reports of distressing incidents of women being subjected to aggressive behaviour, verbal abuse and sexual assault on public transport.

The FIA Foundation held a webinar on 21 March 2016 to launch the report. Policymakers from international institutions and city authorities, representatives of NGOs, and researchers from across the world joined the call or participated at the Foundation’s London headquarters.

The work is the first stage in a larger study which aims to develop new guidance and build capacity to tackle these issues. This is likely to include international guidance and principles for policy and decision-makers, transport/transit operators and other service providers, and recommendations to help civil society and women’s groups. The next stage of research will collect experiences from several cities in different continents throughout 2016.

The report is part of the FIA Foundation’s Safe, Clean, Fair and Green research series which reflects key priorities in sustainable mobility. The FIA Foundation is an independent UK-based charity which seeks to improve understanding, develop practical solutions and build capacity in a wide range of areas of personal mobility.

In introducing the report, Sheila Watson, Director of Environment and Research at the FIA Foundation, highlighted the work as part of the Foundation’s agenda to catalyse change on key issues around sustainable mobility, particularly in the context of this year’s Habitat III meetings working towards a ‘New Urban Agenda’.

Sheila Watson said: “This report is interesting not just because of the intrinsic importance of improving women’s safety when using public transport, but also because of the links it develops between this and the wider issues of sustainable development.”

Heather Allen (main photo) – an independent consultant and the report’s author - explained the research approach, which included a literature and media review, and fieldwork in South Africa to test the methodology. Key findings were that more women use public transport than men, but regularly face harassment on transport systems which do not properly address their needs. The study found poor learning and sharing on the issue, even where cities have developed responses, including changes to the physical environment, using technology and raising awareness of the issue.

Heather Allen said: “This is an issue that has much wider consequences than personal security and we need to learn more about how to address it. Reducing the global work force due to transport security reasons will strongly impact our future development, especially in the developing world. Women can be a strong force for change and we should harness this potential rather than waste it”.

The presentation sparked discussion between participants from around the world about how to raise the profile of this topic, and ensure that the individual experiences of cities are documented and lessons learned and shared.

The report can be found here


Heather Allen

Sheila Watson