Women in public transport
Public transport plays an important role in the lives of women. However, it remains a male-dominated sector. This is evident in women’s employment in public transport, but also in the values that are embedded in its structure and provision, including pricing and route planning. Research shows that there are gender differences in access to mobility and in use of public transport stemming from differences in the social and economic roles of women and men. However, public transport policy is mainly planned and decided by men.
The expansion of public transport is vital to provide women with safe, affordable, equal access to public services including education, childcare and healthcare, and to their place of work. Therefore this allows women’s empowerment via progressive participation in economic and public life, and facilitating engagement with a wide range of rights - including the right to work and rights at work, the right to education, the right to healthcare, and the right to political participation.
Public transport can only be gender-responsive if there are women employed in the industry. The creation of decent and secure work opportunities in the sector that both attract and retain women, and which challenge occupational segregation in the sector is essential.
Policy proposal 11: Strengthen women’s employment and promote decent work in public transport #ThisIsOurWorldToo
As in other transport sectors, there is significant gender-based occupational segregation in public transport, including over-representation of women in informal employment. Gender stereotypes persist, which can be expressed as negative attitudes about women’s abilities and suitability to work in public transport, and in practice through differences in status and conditions of the jobs done by women and men, with women more likely to be lower-paid and in jobs that are more precarious.
With the expansion of public transport there are potential employment opportunities for women, including the chance to shift from precarious or informal work into formal work. Training and retraining is vital to support women of all ages to access these opportunities.
There are a number of issues for women working in public transport – for example, lack of maternity rights, long working hours, vehicle design and uniforms, wage inequality and poor facilities. We know that these issues can impact on women’s employment in the sector. Lack of safe access to bathroom facilities and/or appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) can have a substantial impact on the health, safety and dignity of transport workers, with significant additional impacts for women. If there is no provision of separate facilities for women, this also sends a clear message about how women are seen in the industry.
Strengthening women’s employment in public transport therefore needs to be broader than just a focus on recruitment. Instead it should address all elements of the ILO framework – ‘Women’s career cycle in the transport sector’ (2013) – including attraction, recruitment and selection, retention, career interruption, re-entry, work-life balance, caring responsibilities, and realisation of decent work.
Policy proposal 12: End violence against women transport workers
Violence is a very prevalent issue in public transport for both women workers and passengers, and remains a powerful barrier to women’s equality in society. Sexual harassment, violence and a fear of violence is a very real barrier to mobility for women. And there is a strong link between gender-based violence and gender-based occupational segregation in the transport sector, something that was acknowledged by the ILO in its 2013 transport policy brief. The impact of domestic violence in the world of work also affects women in public transport. Appropriate workplace measures should be implemented to address this impact, for example, the provision of paid leave for workers affected by domestic violence, implementation of women’s advocate programmes in workplaces.
If we don’t address the reality of gender-based violence and other aspects relating to decent work, any interventions to increase women in transport will be undermined. Furthermore, if we address issues for women working in public transport, we will automatically make public transport more attractive and safe for users too.
Policy proposal 13: Introduce technological change in a way that advances gender equality
There are potential benefits and risks for women’s employment in public transport from the introduction of new technologies and further innovation. For example, women are often at the sharp end of automation as their jobs in ticket sales and customer service functions may be particularly at risk. While technological changes in vehicle operation may improve the job of driving for women. Digital platforms are changing work in transport, and women are attracted by the flexibility that this work can offer. However, there are issues with equal access to vehicle ownership and technology, as well as how to ensure decent work, including employment status. Women working in the platform economy also face a higher threat of violence and harassment. Public transport unions play a significant role in ensuring that technology produces benefits for workers and society, and does not further enhance existing inequality. Women will only benefit from new jobs created in public transport by technology if they have the necessary skills, and therefore training is crucial.
Policy proposal 14: Involve women workers in public transport decision-making
Women’s needs as transport users are often prioritised over the needs of women as transport workers. The two aspects intertwine, and women transport workers should not be forgotten.
Women public transport workers must therefore be involved in public transport policy decision-making and planning – including consultation on all new public transport infrastructure and expansion of public transport – in order to ensure that gender impact assessments are undertaken and that specific issues for women are addressed. Women workers must have access to adequate information on social and labour rights and protections, including rights as trade union representatives.