Mobilizing Equality: Advancing Human Rights

Access to affordable, accessible, and safe forms of transportation is one of the keystones in a plan to advance equality. This year’s Human Rights Day theme relates to ‘Equality’ and Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that says, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Meeting those standards of equality laid out by the UN means finding ways to ensure equal access to education and to productive employment in a safe manner—no matter your gender, sexuality, economic status, or ethnicity.

While enhanced mobility options — whether they come in the form of public trams, buses or more active mobility sources like bicycles — can be seen as a universal human right, mobility options in many regions often reflect deep-rooted discrimination. Women and girls in more rural areas may find long distances to nearby schools a barrier to gaining an education. In urban or suburban regions, a lack of public transport can limit a person’s employment options.

In order to meet the goals for equality as set forth back in 1948, the sustainable development of our cities and countryside requires mobility options that leave no one behind to ensure the economic, social, and cultural well-being of this and future generations. Sustainable here is key, as public transport and active mobility play a vital role in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that continue to impact our climate.

Climate Justice

Climate change is a real and active threat to the environment, as we have seen in the form of catastrophic fires and flooding over the last year, and it stands to impact the human rights of many, especially those in the Global South. This is where TUMI’s work proves its importance; a scenario study from 2021, provides a clear action plan for implementing transportation initiatives that limit emissions to a range in which the global temperature will increase by just 1.5° C. As one of the pillars of equality when it comes to human rights is access to housing and food, these limits are urgently necessary.

Access to Education and Employment

Around the world, members of the civil society, cities, states, and local governments have also gotten creative in finding ways to expand women’s equality through mobility. In Zambia, one initiative empowered girls to gain an education by providing bicycles for them to actively go the distance to school. Education is one of the key pillars to equality.

In other places, public transport such as buses or trams can expand a woman’s travel radius — if women feel safe with using them. Opening up the ability to travel securely and affordably through enhanced public transportation can expand women’s opportunities. As transportation disadvantages can lead to social exclusion, overcoming mobility barriers through gender-aware planning allows for productive employment, a human right (Read ‘Overcoming barriers to women’s mobility’).

A sense of safety

Even when public transportation options exist, safety remains a key factor in inequality. As the Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces for Women and Girls global initiative points out, women may be more reluctant to use shared transit options due to a lacking sense of protection from gender-based violence. Laws and initiatives to combat sexual harassment in public spaces should go further in expanding women’s access to mobility. Adding to that, inclusive streets and mobility options are necessary to provide accessibility for vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities, elder people or children. In Banjarmasin, Indonesia a project raised public awareness to the means of inclusive planning through a citizen-driven process that included safe and inclusive school zones for children as well as the inauguration of a public service in form of wheelchair-friendly three wheelers.

Summing it up

The mentioned aspects highlight some examples that make clear the importance of sustainable mobility to create more equal opportunities and to ‘rebuild better, fairer, greener’ (UN – Human Rights Day). A successful mobility system must aim to close the gap between those that are already benefitting from social systems, such as education, job opportunities, safe living environment, etc. and those that are burdened.

Action must be taken now, as these pillars are fundamental to human rights:

  • Prioritizing safe streets for active mobility
  • Decarbonizing transport to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • Bringing diversity to the decision-making table, especially by amplifying voices of women and marginalized groups
  • Creating transport systems that are inclusive and meant for all

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