Women in Latin American cities at risk on public transport, new study finds

Main Image
Bella Dinh-Zarr, Board Member, US National Transportation Safety Board.
Bella Dinh-Zarr, Board Member, US National Transportation Safety Board.
Sheila Watson, Deputy Director & Director of Environment and Research, FIA Foundation.
Sheila Watson, Deputy Director & Director of Environment and Research, FIA Foundation.
Natalie Draisin, Director, North American Office, FIA Foundation & UN Representative.
Natalie Draisin, Director, North American Office, FIA Foundation & UN Representative.
Nicolas Estupinan, Urban Transport Coordinator for CAF, the Development Bank of Latin America.
Nicolas Estupinan, Urban Transport Coordinator for CAF, the Development Bank of Latin America.

The majority of women using public transport in Latin American cities have witnessed or experienced sexual harassment, according to a new report launched by the FIA Foundation and CAF, Development Bank of Latin America.

The Ella Se Mueve Segura (She Moves Safe) study examined the patterns of public transport use by women across the Latin American cities of Quito in Ecuador, Buenos Aires in Argentina, and Santiago, Chile. The objective of the report was to look in greater depth at the experiences of women using public transport in each of these cities and how transport planning can better meet their needs.

The report concludes that women use public transport more than men yet feel most vulnerable on it, and are most likely to change their mode of transport when possible. It calls for those responsible for urban transport to recognise gendered transport issues, and provides a tool kit to assess and implement planning and operations initiatives to improve women’s experiences in order to achieve sustainable development and inclusive cities.

The FIA Foundation launched the report at a dedicated side event at the international TRB Annual Meeting in Washington DC on Wednesday 10 January. The event hosted a range of speakers who shared their thoughts on the importance of women in transport and why transport planning needs to address the needs of women specifically.

Speaking at the event, Bella Dinh-Zarr, Vice Chairman of the National Transport Safety Board, congratulated FIA Foundation for bringing visibility to this issue. She also discussed the importance of women working in transportation to better shape and recognise the needs of women and their families whose behaviour they shape. She said that women working in transport have been influential, but their impact and value is often overlooked, and by pushing women to the heart of the transport agenda, it will improve outcomes for everyone.

Key findings:

  • A greater proportion of women feel unsafe than men across all cities surveyed; the worst rates were in Buenos Aires, where 72% of women feel unsafe, and 89% of women interviewed had experienced sexual harassment, including 49% in the last 12 months.

  • The majority of public transport users (both women and men) have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment with 59% of men in both Quito and Santiago feeling unsafe compared to 61% and 73% of women respectively.

  • Women actively avoid public transport where they perceive the risk of harassment to be too high. Seven out of ten women in Buenos Aires will not travel on public transport alone and half of women in Santiago will change their routes to avoid specific areas of the city.

Integrated and safe public transport systems provide access to education, employment, healthcare, cultural and other important activities and are crucial to women's participation in society overall, as well as, increasing their contribution to economic growth. CAF estimates that improving women's participation in the workforce in Latin America could add an additional 34% to the region's GDP, and that their role in the Latin American ‘economic miracle’ with average growth rates of around 5% between 2002 and 2008 was crucial. Increasingly, women are sole breadwinners in some of the poorest families, and are only able to access employment through the use of public transport.

The report follows on from the Safe and Sound report, released by FIA Foundation in 2015 which examined the overarching issues facing women’s security and access to transport on a global level.

Sheila Watson, Deputy Director & Director of Environment and Research, said: “Women have personal rights to be safe, to be respected, and to achieve their potential, but this research shows that across the world, traditional systems of public transportation delivery and management are failing to keep them safe.

As a result, women are more likely both to avoid public transport for themselves and not to choose it for their families – which crucially undermines our broader ambitions for sustainable mobility and sustainable development. This must be addressed, and this report and the toolkit which accompanies it, begins to show how that could be done.”

Julian Suarez Migliozzi, CAF, Development Bank of Latin America. Vice-president of Infrastructure (a.i.) said: “In order for cities to achieve inclusive development, it is key to clearly identify who, and under which circumstances, are those primarily excluded. The study argues that public transport systems, the backbone to mobility in cities, need to particularly consider gender and other socioeconomic characteristics when planning and designing accessible cities for all. Failure to recognize the costs associated with exclusion can make any urban transport project insufficient to foster sustainable economic development.

“For CAF, She Moves Safe represents a shift in the public policy research agenda to focus on identifying and analyzing existing mobility barriers, not only for women but also for all city-dwellers.”