South America workshop highlights women’s personal security on public transport

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Rachel Vivanco, National director of Women of the Latin American Motherland (MuMaLá).
Rachel Vivanco, National director of Women of the Latin American Motherland (MuMaLá).
Panel discussion on gender and mobility with Paula Bissau (2nd from left) Under Secretary of State for Transport, Buenos Aires.
Panel discussion on gender and mobility with Paula Bissau (2nd from left) Under Secretary of State for Transport, Buenos Aires.

For sustainable transport such as public transport to be a success, women must feel safe and secure using it. Currently many do not.

This was the clear conclusion of the report of the ‘She moves safe’ (‘Ella se mauve segura’) project, jointly funded by the FIA Foundation and CAF, the development bank of Latin America. The project has been researching the issues affecting women’s personal security on public transport in Buenos Aires, Quito and Santiago over the past year, using surveys, focal groups and in-depth interviews with key social actors to gather evidence in all three cities.

Key findings of the research include:

  1. Women use public transport more than men (although men travel further), and use bus services more than rail.
  2. Women tend to be captive riders (with no immediate access to private transport and/or must use public transport to travel)
  3. Security is a far bigger factor for women than men in mobility habits/choices (to the extent they have a choice) More women feel insecure. In Buenos Aires, 72% of women and 58% of men feel insecure; in Quito, 61% and 59% respectively, and in Santiago the proportion is 73% and 59%. However, far higher proportions of women have experienced personal harassment.
  4. There is a confusion and lack of clarity on what to do when harassment occurs (victims and witnesses)
  5. There is an expectation by the perpetrator that they will not be caught/prosecuted. Women lack trust in the “authority”.

On 9th-10th October 2017, the project held a final workshop in Buenos Aires to share the findings from the project. The event included experts from the three cities, as well as civil society organisations and representatives from municipal government and transport operators. Among the presenters were Paula Bissau (Under Secretary of State for Transport, Buenos Aires), Silvia Loomi (Undersecretary of the National Women's Institute), Rachel Vivanco (the National director of Women of the Latin American Motherland (MuMaLá), as well as Heather Allen, who led the FIA Foundation’s global overview ‘Safe and sound’ report, which recently featured in an article on women-only carriages in the BBC’s ‘100 women’ series.

The workshop heard that greatest sense of insecurity is experienced on the way to and from public transport, and in the vehicles. In addition it was found that the majority of incidents (including harassment and petty crimes) are not reported and there is little trust in complaint systems and the security authorities. The study identified a "ladder of violence" that includes the most common types of harassment (visual, verbal and physical) which are encountered most often, escalating to more serious types (such as stalking, bodily injury and rape) and their emotional impact.

The main conclusions of the study will be published as a toolkit in English and Spanish in the next few months. However, key areas include the need to improve reporting systems, develop awareness campaigns and to adapt infrastructure and established systems, such as allowing buses to stop outside established stops or improve integration with bicycles.

Commenting on the findings of the study and workshop, Sheila Watson, Deputy Director of FIA Foundation said:

“Evidence shows that cities are increasingly dangerous places for women to live, whilst there is evidence too that air quality in urban areas is literally killing people. The two issues are linked. To clean up our air we need shared mobility solutions. To secure the fullest possible uptake of such services, they must be safe for women. This study is important because it builds on the experience of real women. Their demands for a systematic response must be heard and addressed for all our sakes.”