The Unseen Impact of Patriarchal Mobility

19 June 2024 - // Features
Bahanur Nasya
Director and Senior Researcher at Wonderland
Yilmaz Vurucu
Filmmaker, Artist, Communication Manager at Wonderland

How many women have you mobilized through your work?

The model citizen has historically enjoyed a well-balanced home-work-leisure routine, with mobility planning centered around his needs to access specific destinations at specific times. This approach has, however, restricted the exploration of alternative lifestyles and needs. As a result, the dominant mobility paradigm has focused on traveling between destinations, promoting the use of privately owned automobiles for commuting. 

This approach has led to a division between residential and commercial spaces, with residential areas sprawling across wide areas, separated from buildings with other uses. This paradigm has also promoted the use of privately owned automobiles for commuting, contributing to a significant carbon footprint. 

However, this model overlooks individuals with part-time jobs, caregivers, and those with multiple responsibilities. These individuals, often women, have different mobility needs and patterns. For instance, women tend to use public transportation and active mobility options like walking and cycling more frequently, making them more sustainable. 

To achieve sustainability, mobility planning must consider all individuals and their needs.

To achieve sustainability, mobility planning must consider all individuals and their needs. This includes offering a convincing reason to choose the right mode of transport, considering risks and complex destination relations. Cities have made strides in improving accessibility and mobility offers, but peri-urban and rural areas face significant challenges due to the energy crisis, exacerbating mobility inequality. 

It is crucial to focus on the mobility needs of women and develop good mobility offers that enhance sustainable practices. Instead of perpetuating the existing paradigm, our work should empower women by improving the capacity of sustainable mobility offers that cover the needs of complex daily tasks. 

Embedding in fear to exclude

Individual choices are determined by individual perceptions. For women, girls, and gender minorities, fear of sexual harassment or other forms of violence is a reality. Religious, ethnic, and gender minorities also feel more exposed to all sorts of risks. This fear leads to decisions that impact their mobility such as extending the route, avoiding places or certain times, and having to choose more expensive ways of travel; and if none of these workarounds suffice, they might avoid moving around at all, which has an impact on participation in work, education, or public life in general.  

Although various movements such as #metoo and the local #IspeakUpNow have successfully highlighted the plight of women and gender-based harassment and violence, the cause of fear in most areas of the world is not solely due to what happens, but on what could happen in a place where women and minorities feel vulnerable. 

Two women walking towards a train station. Photo: Artem Polezhaev / Unsplash

Given that mobility is considered an avoidable risk, this can lead to gender-based or minority-based segregation. Our current mobility strategies and offers neglect this fear and offer too few solutions, although solving the safety issue could empower citizens to move around in a more social, affordable, and sustainable way. Instilling safety to include, is as easy as creating diversity and visibility for the people moving around. 

People feel safe in communities that consist of diverse people. A healthy public life requires guarding the rights of individuals and the achievement of this necessitates an understanding (by policymakers and planners) of the local dynamics and implementation of interventions that improve conditions.  

Increasing the participation of women and gender minorities in jobs related to mobility is an effective way of increasing perceived safety. Currently in Europe, approximately every fifth person in the sector is a woman. In rural areas, this number plummets even further. Ensuring diversity in service personnel sends positive signals and demonstrates a welcoming culture towards people who need to overcome their fears. 

From shaming to exclusion

Individuals not fitting the religious, cultural, ethnic, economic, or sexual standards of society are always at risk of cultural pressure from the majority. This can even include the pressure to conform to the standards of a car-based culture.  

Culturally defined roles and their associated tasks (such as the domestic chores and care activities taken on mostly by women) can define and determine the travel patterns, while the available options can chart out the radius of movement.  

People feel safe in communities that consist of diverse people.

Women generally incorporate trips to a few locations, such as stopping by the pharmacy on the way to kindergarten or going grocery shopping in between destinations. This method of multi-destination travel within a short and limited time-frame is often overlooked and not incorporated into the definition of mobility.  

The intersection of motherhood or sisterhood with mobility can carry various risks, with the caretaker being more dependent on mobility offers. The needs of such individuals often do not fit within the ‘traveling to work and back’ concept of orthodox mobility.  

Domestic Mobility Work, a concept developed by Marie Gillow, PhD in Social and Political Sciences at Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), needs resources, efforts, and skills to be managed. Therefore, household and family-related trips should be seen and handled as a form of labor. Innovative, flexible, and smart solutions can help enhance capacities and improve mobility for women and minorities.  

The gender-pay gap

The European gender pay gap is around 12%, which makes moving around, purchasing a ‘second car’ to get to a part-time job, and integrating all tasks and care activities with ease close to impossible, particularly for economically disadvantaged women in rural and semi-periphery areas.  

Outside Europe, significantly fewer women own a car or have a driver’s licene, leaving them more dependent on walking, cycling, or public transportation. When public transportation offers are limited – whether it be due to scarcity of options or lack of affordability – overcoming longer distances becomes a near-impossible challenge, which in turn limits the radius for care activities, education options, work opportunities, well-being, and health services for women as well as the people they’re responsible for.  

Mobility is often a question of economic possibilities – a resident-based offer of public transportation and support for active mobility investments can help overcome economic bottlenecks, and it defines, to a big extent, the public life of individual citizens and can’t therefore be left to the free market.  

Mobility is often a question of economic possibilities.

Free public transport or affordable subscriptions, as well as options for the last mile home, can support the mobility of women. Also, investment in car sharing, bike sharing, as well as e-mobility offers can help overcome the financial barriers.  

Common gender equality strategies can improve the gender-mobility gap as well. Gender pay equality in all fields, including care and mobility jobs, gender equality in promotion and recruitment, and a guarantee of job availability despite care responsibilities can make a real difference.   

Designed to exclude

Municipalities, regardless of the size, have generally been designed around men’s necessities, habits, routines, and bodies, which has led to a lack of adequate infrastructure for women.  

Collecting sex-disaggregated data on public transportation and mobility is simple but not a common practice, particularly in rural areas. Most research and surveys focus on ‘commuters,’ and people working outside of the ‘norm,’ including those in unpaid labor, are often overlooked by our statistics. This results in a lack of evidence of the existing inequalities.  

A closer look at our infrastructure can help identify who is left out. For instance, sidewalks that are too narrow or dissolve at certain points to give access to cars say a lot on the preference given in design. In other places, metro systems without elevators exclude not only people with disabilities but women carrying strollers as well.  

A group of women crossing the street near Ebensee, Austria. Photo: Wonderland

Women are often exposed to harassment when breastfeeding their children in public, yet diaper-changing areas in public spaces are rare in most areas. A strong political will and the attention of the public can rapidly transform faulty infrastructure into sustainable means of transport. 

Universal design for all public areas is the basis for ensuring widespread participation in public life. Additionally, gender mainstreaming has been internationally adopted as a key strategy towards making gender equality a reality in planning and the Gender Equal Cities EU network, for example, is highlighting achievements in this respect.  

Unfortunately, most peri-urban areas and rural municipalities have vacancy activation and village-center activation on their agenda. However, combining these efforts with the mobility needs of their citizens can lead to better results and the improvement of active mobility in these areas will especially increase footfall, which is needed for the activation process.  

A just offer of mobility to increase sustainability 

Justice is a matter of empowerment and we as a society need to identify and strengthen positive behavior and sustainable patterns. Regarding mobility, women and their patterns have been left out of mobility strategies and planning.  

Just mobility offers accessibility for all, to cover people’s needs and promote safe and secure mobility. Every place has its own dynamics, set of people, needs, and infrastructure. Therefore, a sound offer needs to investigate the working culture, gender stereotypes, built environment and design, available facilities, work-life balance, economic divide, and how the roles in the household are interchangeable when planning mobility that can appeal to all. 

Bahanur Nasya
Director and Senior Researcher at Wonderland
Yilmaz Vurucu
Filmmaker, Artist, Communication Manager at Wonderland

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