How can we make public transport gender-transformative?  Dr. Sheilah Napalang shares inspiring examples for a more inclusive, gender-equitable. For International Women’s Day 2024, we teamed up with to create this special episode. 

In this article, we share what Dr. Sheilah has learned in her work as a Women on the Move mentor and as a professor in the Philippines. We will dive into the concept of gender-transformative transport and explore initiatives that empower women in transportation.  

Recognizing the travel patterns and needs of women 

Today, we are turning our attention towards Asia, where there are many inspiring initiatives to support gender-transformative transport. One of them is Women on the Move’s mentorship program for transport practitioners. The network wants to create an open space for women to engage with each other and to increase the visibility of the issues that women face in transport. Dr. Sheilah Napalang is one of the Remarkable Feminist Voices 2023 and a professor at the School of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of the Philippines. She is also part of the leadership development program “Lead” by, an Asian-Australian network focusing on gender issues in transport.  

When asked about the gender gap in transport, Dr. Sheilah explains that the under-representation of women in the sector is due to both to a lack of suitable job opportunities and a lack of access to existing opportunities. 

“When we want to understand women in transport, we need to know the disproportionate care responsibilities of women. A study showed that 61% of women’s work is unpaid. And the opportunity cost of poor transport systems and services that are unreliable and inflexible are borne disproportionately by women.

What is gender-transformative transport, then? Dr. Sheilah says it is “a planning paradigm where you look at the system and acknowledge that not everyone has the same travel needs.” Women’s needs may include short trips for the mobility of care, trip chaining, and travelling during off-peak periods.

“My definition of gender-transformative transport is really the recognition of the travel patterns and needs of women and children, and also the non-binary sector of society. We need to develop a system that meets their needs and enables them to access work and job opportunities.”

© Keisha Mayuga

 Making transport accessible for all 

Talking about the challenges that gender-transformative transport faces, Dr. Sheilah mentions cultural stereotypes, which might include a lack of understanding of what women need in transport. “I think a huge part of the challenge is the collection of appropriate data to know whether your programs work”, she adds.  

To integrate accessibility and gender into transportation planning, Dr. Sheilah recommends not only focusing on gender, but also looking at passengers with limited mobility across different life stages. “It is imperative to actually link gender and disability. This intersectionality is now gaining grounds”.  

In her research, she has found out about the importance of looking at the entire journey cycle, including challenges like getting out of the house or finding information about the next available trains.  

“Information is key. The physical infrastructure is important, of course, but information is equally important to actually enable persons with disabilities and intersectional issues.”

Ensuring women’s workforce participation in public transport 

In the Philippines, one notable initiative to support gender-transformative transport has been the establishment of the Philippine Commission on Women. Part of this is the requirement to allocate 5% of national and local budgets to gender programs, projects, and activities. Other initiatives focused on improving the percentage of female seafarers and on providing women-only cars on the metro. Dr. Sheilah Napalang explains: 

“The ongoing public transport modernization is also a call for making the public transport system more available and more responsive to women.

She is impressed by a program from Santiago in Chile, where transport providers actively look for women drivers for their bus systems. Their bus concession contracts are based on percentage requirements for female drivers. In addition, Santiago has succeeded in transforming station and bus stops into safe, well-lit spaces that feel safe for women, girls, and transgender persons. “What impressed me most is that they did participatory planning. They talked to a lot of women, to bus drivers, to concessionaires.” 

Making gender-transformative policies an integral part of efficiency 

To evaluate the success of gender-transformative transport programs, collecting data is key, but it is also one of the biggest challenges. Gender-disaggregated data can answer many relevant questions about reducing travel time, harassment, and increasing in the participation of women in the workforce. Dr. Sheilah emphasizes: 

“Data is really not just data. You have to be able to understand it.

Dr. Sheilah’s advice for integrating gender into transport is to consider gender-transformative policies as an integral part of efficiency.

“Efficiency is having the right service at the right time. That means a decrease in travel time. You do not remove gender-responsive policies from efficiency, you put them together. You also include gender-responsive policies in the safety of public transport, as well as into other parameters for transport planning.” 

Her moving words at the end are a call for advocacy: “One of the key and outstanding features of a woman is compassion. We need to capitalize on the compassion of women while we do the work we need to do to have gender-transformative transport. Women, unite! Be compassionate, and be courageous.” 

Listen to the full episode in the podcast player below! 

You can also find Talking Transport Transformation on Podigee, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts.