Gender & Mobility
Transportation and mobility was one of the first environmental areas to be analysed thoroughly from a gender perspective. There is a considerable body of literature and data in this field which proves insightful, even though it predominately focuses on the differences between the sexes and the different ways women and men use transport systems. Indeed, men and women do have different needs and habits when it comes to mobility, and what is more, their voices are not heard to an equal extent by transport policymakers. This is because the transport sector is characterised both by gender imbalance and androcentrism, meaning that the underlying values and standards which drive planning and decision-making are determined by the most dominant and powerful members of the population. Future-oriented infrastructure policy and transport planning, on the other hand, needs to be based on the concepts of sustainability, care, and social justice.
The range of transport options available, and the accessibility of the destinations we need to reach for work, family or care responsibilities, or for leisure activites, need to be taken into account when we think about social inclusion. Transport planning and urban development, however, is too often oriented towards (male) commuters and mobility needs are still seen through the lens of a market-oriented model of prosperity – that is, focusing on the necessity of travelling between home and work. Gender aspects are rarely taken into account, although empirical evidence highlights that considerable gender-related differences exist, and androcentrism can be clearly identified in transport planning (for more information, see publications by Meike Spitzner).
Care economy / care work and market driven / labor economy
A person’s mobility requirements are related to their individual situation and daily needs. The fact that women continue to take on the bulk of the reproductive labour within society is clearly reflected in their mobility patterns and chosen means of transport. In contrast, men travel for longer and on average, cover greater distances. Furthermore, they tend to have a sole clear purpose –travelling to work, whereas women are more likely to travel shorter distances more frequently, combining a range of different purposes. Such "trip chains" come about because women are often required to combine and coordinate their own journey to work with other tasks, such as care responsibilities, and accommodate the different time schedules and needs of dependents. This leads to more complex spatial mobility patterns and behavior.
Traditionally, however, mobility research has placed great emphasis on work-related transport, i.e., journeys to work. Also, a large part of the contributions that include or focus on the gender perspective concentrate on the dimension of the labor economy. This may also be related to the fact that there is a clear gender segregation in the transport sector, and this also applies to research.
Gender aspects also play a central role in the choice of transport. While men often take the car, women are more likely to walk or use bicycles and public transport – the more environmentally friendly options. Reasons for this include income inequality and environmental preferences, but also the fact that knowledge about cars and the image of the car itself can play an important part in male identity (see, for example, the publication listed on the American automotive culture). The mobility behavior that is associated with masculinity – owning a powerful car, fast driving, etc. – is a traffic behavior that is incompatible with the objectives of sustainability. The existing transport system and transport policies, however, unquestioningly accept this as the basis for their planning.
Infrastructure projects and transport planning must be guided by the concepts of sustainability and social justice. Traffic avoidance, emission reduction, social usability and acceptance are exemplary guiding goals for sustainable mobility. The distribution of transport space among the different modes has not yet been negotiated as a gender issue, but it could represent an important building block in the transport turnaround by providing arguments and social acceptance for a comprehensive redistribution of public space.
Shaping power at actor's level
The previously mentioned gender segregation in the transport sector consequently leads to an underrepresentation of women in planning and decision-making positions. It is obvious that this has effects on the perceived options for action and on transport planning. Participation processes in the field of transport planning must work more towards gender equity in order to reflect the perspectives of all population groups.
Transport planning and transport policies are among the sectors that are still clearly male-dominated, which means that mobility requirements related to unpaid care work are not given prioritised as highly as mobility for the purposes of employment. A more equitable treatment would require different things to be taken into account, such as ensuring that trips can be easily combined, that good cross-connections for public transport are available and providing accessibility for those with special needs or who don’t have access to a car. The issue of safety also has to be taken into account, because women often choose routes and means of transport according to personal safety.
Body, health, self-determination, and privacy ('intimacy')
Studies of transportation-related air pollution and its links to environmental justice show not only that men generate more emissions than women, but also that those who live in places with the least air pollution emit the most and, conversely, those who live in areas with the most air pollution emit the least. Gender and age are at least as important determinants of environmental justice as income, education, or employment status. Time studies show that women and the elderly are overrepresented in noisy and air-polluted areas and are exposed to these pollutants for longer periods of time because they are employed to a lesser extent due to taking on more care work and thus spend more time in the household. Safety also plays an important role in transportation choices and well-being for women, as they also choose routes and modes of transportation based on safety from assault, as well as safety on the road (e.g., when they are bicycling).
- Achieving climate objectives in transport policy by including women and challenging gender norms - the Swedish case
By Annica Kronsell, Lena Smidfelt Rosqvist and Lena Winslott Hiselius (2015).
This article addresses the question of whether and how women can make the transport sector more sustainable. Based on the example of Sweden, it is shown that women still have more environmentally friendly mobility than men and have higher demands for the sustainability of the transport sector. The authors emphasize that women are important multipliers when it comes to making the transport sector more sustainable and breaking the alignments with the male norm in this sector. Concrete policy measures are presented on how to strengthen women's equal participation in mobility decision-making and better accommodate different mobility habits and needs.
The article is available here.
- Gender in US mobility
In their book "Carjacked. The Culture of the Automobile and Its Effect on Our Lives" (published in 2010) the authors Catherine Lutz und Anne Lutz Fernandez launch an attack on the US-American culture of mobility. In doing so they point out the gender component of mobility behavior and "car ideology" - what they call the demand of Americans for bigger and bigger cars.
They show that the type of car people choose also depends on their assumptions of what is male and female. Masculinity for example is closely associated with high speed and profound technical knowledge. Femininity on the other hand can be demonstrated through driving kids to school.
You can find out more about the book here.
- Spitzner, Meike; Turner, Jeff; Hamilton, Kerry (2006): Women and transport. Study; European Parliament.
Available online here.