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).
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.
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.
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.
An important step in this direction would be to ensure the participation of all relevant groups in transport planning and decision-making, as well as collecting (gender-disaggregated) data (for further information, see the publications listed). Infrastructure and transport planning must be based on the concepts of sustainability and social justice. Traffic reduction, mitigation, social usability and acceptance are exemplary guiding principles for sustainable mobility.
"Gender equality in the transport and mobility sector can only be achieved if gender aspects are addressed by planners and decision-makers, including taking into account different needs and demands –without cementing gender roles! (...) – and if these considerations are named and properly implemented throughout the entire transport and mobility sector. It is about dismantling structural dominance, letting go of some power and privilege, and passing it on – not just to women, but to all the people whose life does not correspond to the ‘standard everyday male life’.” (VCÖ 2009: Gender Gap im Verkehrs- und Mobilitätsbereich – Hintergrundbericht, p. 23)
- 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.
- Sitzner, Meike; Turner, Jeff; Hamilton, Kerry (2006): Women and transport. Study; European Parliament.
Here online available.