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Gender on the Agenda: the gap between planners, public transport, public space and the needs and experiences of women

Natalie Draisin, Chair and moderator for the third Gender on the Agenda session, is Director, North American Office and United Nations Representative for the FIA Foundation. Along with expert UK-based speakers, this next session will explore practical approaches to making public spaces and transport systems welcoming to all...

Juliana O'Rourke
16 November 2021
Natalie Draisin, Chair and moderator for the third Gender on the Agenda session, is Director, North American Office and United Nations Representative for the FIA Foundation
Natalie Draisin, Chair and moderator for the third Gender on the Agenda session, is Director, North American Office and United Nations Representative for the FIA Foundation


The FIA Foundation has an international reputation for practical environmental research, interventions to improve air quality and tackle climate change; and high impact strategic advocacy in to ensure ‘Safe, Clean, Fair and Green’ mobility for all.

Natalie Draisin, Chair and moderator for the third Gender on the Agenda session, is Director, North American Office and United Nations Representative for the FIA Foundation, and has been involved in projects across the globe. She brings a welcome international rigour to the series, and will be sharing insights and first-hand experience of gender-related mobility and streetspace projects from Delhi to Washington DC.

Natalie manages FIA Foundation’s grants in North America to achieve safe and sustainable mobility worldwide. Striving to place safe and healthy journeys for youth at the centre of the political agenda, she founded Vision Zero for Youth with the National Centre for Safe Routes to School and scaled it globally. She also has a first-hand view of cyclist safety, having cycled across the US to fundraise for cancer prevention.

And while safety is high on the list of FIA Foundation’s priorities, the breadth of the organisation’s work slows a clear understanding that safety means more than fear of death or injury on public roads and streets. Its far-ranging projects explore how far access to, and use of, these core public spaces are comfortable and attractive for all citizens, including women, girls and children. 

Register free here for Gender on the Agenda, 23 Nov at 13.00 - 14.15

‘The combined impact of a poor built environment and unsafe transport systems have significant impacts on the ways in which adolescent girls move and engage with society,' say the authors of an FIA Foundation report, Expanding access to opportunities for girls and women: working towards safe mobility.

This project examined the experiences of adolescent girls’ journeys in three low-income neighbourhood locations in India. Using a unique app created by Safetipin, girls audited points around their area on their daily journeys, assessing a range of criteria including lighting, walkpaths and visibility, alongside their overall feelings of safety. This data was analysed alongside interviews with local girls and women, in order to more fully understand how their experiences and behaviours are shaped by the physical and social frameworks in which they live.

The study highlighted the significant impact of the environment on girls’ feelings of security and the limited spaces where they felt safe to move:

  • 44% of all audit points assessed felt ‘frightening’ or ‘uncomfortable’, and would be avoided by women if possible;

  • Street use was notably gendered, with women regularly using less than a third of public spaces assessed; and

  • Greater use of an area by women correlated directly with women’s comfort levels; of the audit points with higher gender use, 89% were perceived as ‘comfortable’ or ‘acceptable’.

In our session on 23 November, we will be hearing from Amy Foster and Aisha Hannibal from Living Streets about a project working with young girls in a process deisgned to help them understand and co-create their public spaces, and to involve the more effectively in the decision making process, and provide tools they could use to mobilise and call for change within their community as active citizens.

Inside and outside public spaces

If external public spaces are not people-friendly, they won’t encourage women and girls  to use them and so access the internal public spaces of public transport – which, as the FIA Foundation’s work clearly shows – can be equally off-putting to women.

Feeling comfortable and safe using both outside public spaces, and the inside public transport networks they enable access to, is the key to enabling women to travel for education, employment and leisure, and to ensure their general wellbeing.

Liveable cities are the connection point for much of the FIA Foundation’s work. The challenge demands a holistic approach to delivering road safety, environmental and sustainable transport policies, integrating with policies on education, employment, health and urban planning. The Foundation currently concentrates on encouraging walking and cycling, policies that promote non-motorised transport, and helping to deliver streets for health, streets for climate, and streets for people.

Our take on this for the next gender session will be thoughts from Esther Kurland at Urban Design London on whether we can – and should –  plan for local living, and how that might benefit women and girls.

Counting women so women count

Much of the FIA Foundation’s work has focused on gender. Natalie points to a FIA Foundation working paper, Counting women so women count: a rapid international review on the state of transport data and women. Data is an essential driver to address inequality, and ‘women have personal rights to be safe, to be respected, and to achieve their potential, but our research shows that traditional systems of public transportation delivery and management are failing to keep them safe,’ say the report’s authors.

The report identifies a number of points with universal applications for aspects of transport. This is an issue we will be exploring in our next Gender on the Agenda session in 2022, so please send me ideas and suggestions! The FIA Foundation report stated that:

  • Business as usual’ is not an acceptable approach. Transport professionals widely agreed that that inclusive transport could not be achieved without reflecting gender needs more effectively in the data.

  • Data is not an end in itself, but it is one of the main tools that can be leveraged to inform decisions. Collecting better data on women’s needs is, however, the first step towards more inclusive transport systems.

  • Transport data is a public good which needs appropriate resources and investment.

  • Knowledge exchange in data collection and analysis are vital but underrated by those making decisions about transport investments and development.

  • Gender balance within the sector must be addressed at all levels, especially at the top.

Toolkits are crucial...

A gender-focused toolkit developed by the FIA Foundation gives cities the framework to identify and address the failures to address women’s needs and concerns around public transport. ‘This is crucial because not only are women are more likely to avoid public transport if they have negative experiences, but they also make choices for their families – which could undermine our broader ambitions for sustainable mobility and sustainable development if they pass on their concerns.’ 

For our next session, transport planners Molly Hoggard, Marie Godward and Laura Brooks discuss the key components of their award-winning Gender Equality Toolkit in Transport.

We hope to see you there! 

Register free here

Finally, Natalie encourages interested attendees to join the World Bank’s SUM4ALL working group on gender & mobility, chaired by the FIA Foundation’s Sheila Watson

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