“I have started to bring flat shoes when I ride a bus, it makes me feel safer because if anything happens I can run,” says a woman in Jalisco, Mexico. “A man hugged me trying to touch my breasts, I twisted his fingers and scratched him. Then he touched my butt and pushed me, and I ended up almost on the floor,” says another in Guatemala City. “Since I was a little girl, I've always walked with my headphones on so I don't listen to all the catcalling in the street," says another woman from Santiago de Chile.
On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, these testimonies collected by the Observatories against Street Harassment reflect the situations that women face throughout the region.
More than 60% of women have suffered some form of sexual violence, physical or verbal, in public transportation in Latin America. Bogota, Mexico City and Lima are the three cities with the most dangerous transportation systems for them, according to a study that includes 16 cities around the world.
This violence—in many cases verbal, in others physical—makes the search for safe routes one extra factor for women to consider when traveling. These defense strategies force them to change their routes and forms of transport, even if that means more time or a higher cost. It is definitely an additional burden that denies women the right to not only move freely in the city, but also to enjoy it without fear of being violated.
How to solve this problem? Several cities have created metro cars and buses just for women, launched awareness campaigns or created apps to report incidents. Cities are moving towards stopping street harassment, and now they have decided to go a step further and do it together. This is how the Transport Gender Lab was born, a network of Latin American cities focused on improving urban transport by incorporating the gender perspective.
Seven cities have already stepped in. Bogota, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, the State of Jalisco, Guatemala City, Quito and Santiago de Chile are already generating—with IDB's support—knowledge about the design, implementation and monitoring of initiatives, as well as activities and studies in favor of gender equality in the transport sector through a technical dialogue based on networking and the exchange of experiences.
But in addition to violence prevention and the accompaniment of victims in the reporting process, the Transport Gender Lab also seeks to answer two other major challenges that affect transport systems from a gender perspective. The first one is the lack of mobility data disaggregated by sex, which makes it possible to better understand the different needs of men and women, as well as of other groups such as people with disabilities or the elderly. The second one is the low presence of women in the infrastructure and transport sector (15%), which makes it difficult to include their needs and perspectives in the design, construction and operation phases of transport systems.
This regional effort has been inspired by the work carried out by the public transport system in London. Their main lesson? “One of the most important things is that any improvements made for women will also make the system better for all customers,” says Christina Calderato, manager of Policy, Strategy and Planning at Transport for London, better known as TfL.
"A man hugged me trying to touch my breasts, I twisted his fingers and scratched him. Then he touched my butt and pushed me, and I ended up almost on the floor," says a woman from Guatemala City.
Gender and transport, city by city
There are already more than 80 shared initiatives in this network of cities, mostly dealing with awareness and education (27) and violence prevention (13). We have highlighted some of them here:
Mexico City has opted for new technologies with the Vive Segura CDMX (Live Mexico City safe) app, which allows female travelers to report events and get help in case of violence. In Bogota another app, Safetipin, offers users georeferenced information on security issues such as lighting, road conditions, visibility or policy presence.
Buenos Aires has a strong commitment with research, compiling information through different surveys to document gender violence within the transportation system and also user's perception of insecurity. In Santiago de Chile, the Observatory Against Street Harassment also collects information through surveys, as well as organizing communication and awareness campaigns.
Quito works to consolidate itself as a safe city for women with initiatives such as Cuéntame (Tell me), with booths located in five stations where women can report episodes of sexual harassment. In the same line, the State of Jalisco in Mexico has launched itinerant modules of harassment prevention, where social workers, psychologist and lawyers provide guidance on gender violence in the main stations during peak hours.
In Guatemala City, the public transport system Transmilenio opted for infrastructure and coordination with the police, with a program of safe bus stops that includes better lighting and a video surveillance system, which in some places is complemented by a panic button.
If you want to know more about the Transport Gender Lab initiative and the knowledge products for each city, check out IDB publications here.