‘She Was Only Walking Home.’ ‘It could have been me.’ ‘When will women be safe?’
These are just a few of the powerful messages from the vigil honouring Sarah Everard last week. On March 3, the 33-year-old British woman went missing while walking home from a friend’s house. Nine days later, it was confirmed that Everard had been murdered, her alleged killer an active police officer. In recent weeks, we have witnessed a tidal wave of women’s voices being heard and shared across social media in the wake of this tragic event. Women are relaying their personal experiences of feeling unsafe and being harassed, when travelling alone. Women’s safety has become a hot topic sweeping the world and is something, as shared mobility operators, we must listen to and engage with.
Unfortunately, almost all women have had some kind of unpleasant or frightening experience. According to a survey from UN Women UK, among women aged 18-24, 97% said they had been sexually harassed, while 80% of women of all ages said they had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces.
In this article we will explore:
- The challenges women deal with on a daily basis when planning a trip.
- The systemic problems within the transportation industry that lead to these challenges.
- The mobility companies that are disrupting gender inequality and addressing women’s safety in a holistic way.
Keep reading to learn more about women’s safety in shared mobility. To learn more about women in the industry, check out our Women in Shared Mobility series here.
How Can We Improve Women’s Safety In Shared Mobility?
THE CHALLENGES WOMEN FACE
When it comes to biology, women are smaller and weaker than men, therefore more vulnerable to attacks. Unfortunately this affects which routes or means of transportation many women choose especially when trying to stay safe when out alone at night. Some of the most commons questions a women will ask themselves when planning a trip are, How do I get there and back? How safe is the location and the surroundings? Is it possible to get home from there? With which means of transport do I feel safe on the route at night? Will I go home with others later, or will I be alone? How much money do I want to spend on my transportation? Is the last mile of the night reasonable and the road illuminated? How can I defend myself in case of an attack?
First and last mile travel is usually the most problematic when planning a trip due to a multitude of reasons, such as empty and poorly illuminated streets. This can mean women taking a longer route home just to walk on busier streets, to avoid carparks, small streets and alleyways.
Most women will have rustled their keys at one point to alert a potential attacker that they live near by. Some have even held their keys in between their fingers as they walk to use as a weapon if necessary. In the train stations and bus stops, women try to avoid waiting too long by planning their trip to the minute.
This extensive trip planning and preparation of preventative measures are so ingrained within us, that women have come to accept feeling unsafe at night as ‘normal’ and we have learned to work around it. How have we let this happen?
If you are a woman reading this and can relate to everything dicussed so far – know that you are not alone. Even our CEO and Founder has had instances in her life on transportation where she has felt unsafe and afraid,
“When I was sixteen, I spent a month in Florence to improve my Italian. I was in a homestay with an older woman and felt quite safe living with her. However, every morning I had to take a 30 minute ride on a very crowded bus to the language school, located in the center of Florence. I was groped more than once during those four weeks, and being the very shy and timid teenager that I was, I used to freeze every time. I had hoped that by not moving, I would stop the perpetrator, instead it encouraged them. Needless to say, I preferred the 60 minute walk to school, meeting up with another student half-way, over being on that crowded bus.” – Sandra Phillips, movmi
There have been countless reported instances of attacks and abuse towards women on transportation, across the world. In Kenya, minibuses called matatus constitute the bulk of the country’s public transport system. Most of these minibuses are painted with colourful graffiti art, play loud music, and take on board many passengers so that seating gets crowded. In November 2014, three video clips were circulating online and on WhatsApp of women passengers being stripped off their clothes at bus terminals and sexually violated inside a moving matatu.
According to the National Commission for Women, Indian cities are under-reporting instances of harassment: in the National Capital Region, 77% of women do not report instances of sexual assault and 59% of women said that they have stopped going out alone to avoid such crimes. This means public street, parks and transportation do not have equal representation of women, reinforcing the idea that public spaces are unsafe for women.
The problem of women’s safety in shared mobility is also an inherent problem in North American cities. Last year in Vancouver B.C, a woman passenger was attacked on a bus for defending two Asian women who were verbally berated for wearing protective masks. The female bystander spoke up to defend the two women and was then kicked, punched and had her hair pulled from her head by the male attacker.
So how do we stop this from continually happening?
PROBLEMS WITHIN THE INDUSTRY
In recent studies, trip data has been analysed and it has now been well documented that men and women use public transport in different ways because of their distinct social roles and economic activities. Since women’s reasons for traveling generally differ from men’s, the purpose, frequency, and distance of their trips are also different.
We follow Women Mobilizie Women on LinkedIn and found this post on the topic very informative:
Successful and equitable public transportation and shared mobility has the potential to make employment opportunities, healthcare resources, and education more accessible to women. However, due to poor transport planning, women often do not have equal access to public transport, putting these resources out of reach and limiting financial autonomy.
Why is this?
At the beginning of this year movmi created the EmpowerWISM award, to elevate and celebrate the women in the shared mobility industry who are designing, building and innovating. Why did we do this? Because we feel that women are severely underrepresented in this sector. In fact less than 22% of the transportation workforce is female and of those less than 3% are in a CEO position. What these figures boil down to, is that our transportation system has an inherent gender design bias. With a lack of women in leadership roles, how can we expect our transportation services and infrastructure be designed with women in mind? This is why we need to encourage, motivate and support female leaders within this space.
Another way of approaching the problem, is by really taking a look at the current data surrounding how women move and asking ourselves, ‘is this a fair representation?’ Of course, the data does not lie and we can clearly see that women take shorter trips due to the larger amount of care work and household duties they may have, but it only looks at what is currently happening, not how it could be changed and altered to support women across a multitude of roles. We have to be cautious that we are not continuously creating a cycle of mobility systems that fosters the current status quo without looking at how we could improve this for the better.
This is why, in the same LinkedIn thread by by Women Mobilize Women, we also really appreciated Arnd Batzner’s unique viewpoint,
Essentially, we need to keep this dialogue going and to keep our minds open to new ideas and possibilities when designing future shared mobility services.
THE COMPANIES THAT ARE ADDRESSING women’s safety
There is a clear connection between the quality of public transportation infrastructure and a woman’s perception of security and safety. Ensuring that public buses run according to schedule and making sure there is adequate lighting near bus stops and on train platforms are simple measures that can be taken. The Inter-American Development Bank found that the higher the compliance with the transport schedule or the less congested the transport, the lower the probability that a woman will be a victim of a crime.
With that being said, there are companies and cities addressing the current problem of women’s safety and mobility in the sector. For example the city of Vienna in Austria has translated women’s mobility differences and needs into infrastructure and traffic planning. Stations and waiting areas were redesigned to provide ample visibility of the surrounding area, systems were simplified to become more user-friendly, route pavements became wider and footpaths were added.
One company that focuses on the safety and well-being of women is Safetipin. A mobile application developed in India that allows its majority female users to record their perception of safety. They do so by collecting information on lighting, openness, visibility, crowd, security, walk path, availability of public transport, and gender diversity of passersby.
Another company in India, and a friend of movmi’s, is Bikxie. Bikxie offers a last-mile travel solution in Gurugram and Faridabad. It is also the first and is still the only taxi service provider in the country to offer gender distinguished service on two wheelers. In an interview with Bikxie Founder, Divya Kalia, she said,
“I felt women would not be comfortable with this type of service. I would not be comfortable, so why should my female customers be comfortable. So we launched the service for females, by females so we have a dedicated fleet and driver for women customers. A lot of females customers got back to me saying they were very happy and began booking it for their kids as well.” – Divya Kalia
SheTaxis is another service that is ran by women for women, operating in New York City. In the taxi and delivery industry, only 2% of drivers are women, but around 60% of riders are also women. As a female minority-owned company, SheTaxis priority is women’s safety and to offer reliable and trustworthy drivers for for their female users.
HOW TECHNOLOGY CAN INCREASE WOMEN’S SAFETY
Research has also shown that women tend to hesitate before reporting a crime of sexual violence that occurs on public transport because the aggressor is more often than not unidentified and the reporting process is often complicated. In a study by Asha Weinstein Agrawal, PHD and Anatasia Loukaitou-Sideris, PhD on San José State University students, they found that fewer than 10% of victims reported the harassment they had experienced on public transit to anyone at all, and those students who reported the experiences mostly did so to friends or family rather than to police or transit operators.
Raising public awareness about how the experience of a woman traveling in a city is unique from that of a man is crucial and can have a significant impact on how we design future transportation systems and how we can improve current ones. We encourage you to share your own personal stories. The more women speak up about their experiences, the more pressure we can put on our cities, policy maker and transportation services to make changes.
If you feel comfortable sharing your own personal experiences as a woman using shared transportation services, connect with us on LinkedIn. Let’s get the message out there and encourage others to do the same.