In May 2018 TUMI organized the first all-female conference “WomenMobilizeWomen” (WMW). In 2019 TUMI published the first “Remarkable Women in Transport” publication. Laura Ballesteros, former Undersecretary of Mobility in Mexico City, was part of both milestones. Today we have the chance to speak with her about empowering women in mobility and the work she and her colleagues do at Mujeres en Movimiento, the Latin American Chapter of WMW.
Why you can’t have sustainable urban mobility without gender inclusivity
Women on average spend more time on the streets and in public transport than men. Due to the necessities of running households and taking care of children and family members, women typically take four to five trips per day via walking or public transport. Men only take two trips per day on average. If a household can only afford one car, the man usually is the one who uses it while the woman has to fend for herself.
Public transportation, including walking and cycling mobility, is not gender-neutral by any stretch of the imagination. Because women have historically never been allowed to take part in leadership, public transportation was not built with women in mind. The result is that public transport is not as safe or accessible for women who rely on it more than men.
As countries around the world consider how to invest in more urban sustainable mobility coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic, they should not make the mistake of separating green mobility and gender inclusivity, both in the decision-making process and in the outcome of those decisions.
“If you invest in the public transport sector and in public spaces, as it relates to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, you are investing in women because we are more exposed to the streets and public space. All of our journeys are linked to it,” said Laura Ballesteros, former Undersecretary of Mobility in Mexico City and Executive Secretary of Mujeres en Movimiento, an advocacy group that works towards female leadership and gender-sensitive mobility planning.
Ballesteros and other global transport leaders are hoping to use the pandemic as a chance to dispense with car-centric cities and work towards sustainable, human-centric cities. Many cities, like Bogota and Mexico City, have introduced pop-up bike lanes and sidewalks to help people move safely and socially distance during the pandemic. But Ballesteros urges governments, civil society, and the private sector to push for permanency and integration with road safety agendas.
“If we can invest and allocate the public budget on that specific issue, we can once and for all change the face of our cities to be more inclusive, equal, and democratic — just by changing the streets and giving pedestrians and cyclists more power. If we can do that, we can also help within the same movement to empower women and female mobility,” said Ballesteros.
Ballesteros and Mujeres en Movimiento know the importance of having women in leadership when it comes to transport. Having women at the table ensures that plans are created that account for the unique issues women face with public transport.
At present, public transport does not account for women’s needs because transport systems were explicitly designed for a solo male commuter. As a result, many train schedules best accommodate 9-to-5 workers, resulting in longer wait times for anyone else. Longer wait times for women result in higher chances of violence and harassment. In Mexico City, nine in ten women have experienced violence in public transport. In addition, many train stations lack elevators to help women carry strollers or groceries.
“We want to know what problems the women who are using public transport systems are facing,” she said. “The security, the violence, the road safety challenges. The women who are drivers working in public transport, or the mothers who can contribute to mobility issues for children.”
Many of the initiatives that cities are adopting to increase non-motorized transport, like building better walking and cycling infrastructure, could benefit women directly. For example, newer infrastructure would likely be built with wider paths, cleaner spaces, corner mirrors, and plenty of lighting at night.
The biggest challenge to create more inclusive and green streets is encouraging open dialogues and drumming up the political will necessary to change cities for the better, according to Ballesteros.
“All the life that we can imagine in our cities happens on the streets. People need to understand the importance of streets in our lives,” she said.
But this can’t truly happen without women in leadership. Women in transport around the world can become better leaders by connecting and collaborating with each other, by realizing that their cities’ transport problems are shared by others around the world, and by leaning on one another for strength and empowerment.
Ballesteros said that one of the most important discoveries that women in the transport sector can make is to recognize that they are not alone. “This male way to see the world has different codes than the ones we as women have,” she said. “Women work in a code of collaboration, not a code of competition.”
“If we can improve the leadership of women who are part of the mobility and transport agenda, we can improve our cities because we know that women are going to make it happen. When women plan and implement projects, they always do it for everybody.”