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How are cities tackling gender-based violence in transportation?

By Kelsey Carido

Four CHANGE cities spoke to  Ambassador Geeta Rao Gupta, US Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues, and Ambassador Nina Hachigian, Special Representative for City and State Diplomacy. Representatives from Barcelona, Bogotá, London, and Mexico City shared their best practices in addressing gender-based violence (GBV) on public transportation. Our speakers shared important lessons and tactics that urban planners around the world could adapt.


Bogotá

With Secretary for Women’s Affairs, Diana Rodríguez Franco

Nearly 4 million people take public transportation in Colombia’s capital every day, and 80% of riders are women. This is why Bogotá applies a gender lens to transportation, with specific attention on tackling GBV the Bus Rapid Transit System. In fact, harassment on transportation is now considered a “high-impact crime”, a new categorization that illustrates how much of a priority this has become for the city.

To tackle this issue, Bogotá brought together teams of psychologists and lawyers to work in tandem for victims and survivors of harassment and abuse. A call or text to the Línea Purpura, or “purple hotline”, a 24/7 phone line for victims of gender-based violence, connects the victim to psycho-legal support.

The program started in January 2021 and has connected with 1,300 victims of violence in public transportation and public spaces. Drivers and other employees have also been trained to respond quickly and effectively to harassment and abuse as it occurs.

For riders, a public awareness campaign distributed whistles for bystanders to  blow if they saw something, or if a woman felt at risk. The goal of the campaign was to trigger a sense of shared responsibility in addressing gender-based violence in public spaces, and it was a success – many people have held onto the whistles.

Finally, a bill was introduced in Bogotá city council that applies monetary fines for harassment, and requires that the perpetrator participates in pedagogical activities or community programs related to violence against women. City and national government are also collaborating to change the penal code to rewrites the way sexual assault in the public space is defined.


Barcelona

With gender mainstreaming officer, Blai Martí Plademunt

Although the city of Barcelona works extensively to bring better security measures to public transportation, policy makers understand that security is not synonymous with safety. This distinction has been essential in understanding women’s lived experience in public spaces, ultimately helping the municipality tackle GBV in public transportation more accurately.

Since 2003, Barcelona has conducted an annual city-wide survey that, amongst other things, has helped the municipality understand how women use public transportation. Over time, it has revealed that women typically feel more threatened in these spaces than men do. They are more afraid of being sexually assaulted, but also of suffering non-sexual threats, or robbery. Another indicator collected in the annual city survey asks “how often do you avoid traveling on your own if you cannot be accompanied?” Data shows that women avoid traveling on their own almost three times more than men, which demonstrates how public transportation and space is not equally accessible to women.

To address the problems exposed through data collection, in 2021 the city of Barcelona created a public transportation plan to respond to harassment on buses and trains. In a first instance, more women were hired as employees in public transportation specifically in operational positions.  An “on-demand” night bus service was also set up, so women can request a ride to move around safely after dark.Transport networks crossing the city also conducts focus groups to better understand women’s fears and perceptions in public train stations, working together to then ideate useful interventions.

As the city of Barcelona responds to gender-based violence, it is focused on enhancing agency, recognizing this as a pillar of safety. Blai concluded with,

Mobility is a universal right and we should continue to focus on making sure this right is upheld and exercised equally, no matter a person’s identity.

Blai Martí Plademunt

London

With Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Policy Manager at Transport for London (TFL), Georgina Carey

The Mayor of London has published a Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy which sets the overarching strategy for the city. Transport for London’s Ending Violence Against Women and Girls (EVAWG) program is in its third year, sits under the Mayor’s strategy, and includes a number of work streams that cover policy, environment and infrastructure measures, communications, education, training and legislation. A key work stream is to train staff so that they are  able to support victims and survivors of sexual harassment.

Behavior change campaigns are an important tool in London’s arsenal of responses to violence against women and girls. The city has launched several communications campaigns like this social media campaign,

On the transportation network there are posters on trains, platforms, in buses and at bus shelters that describe various types of harassment. These seek to respond to chronic under-reporting by raising awareness on what sexual harassment looks like, and in turn, encouraging victims to speak up when they have been subject to abuse. Bystanders are offered practical techniques to stand up against perpetrators and de-escalate situations.

A big focus at present is around hearing women’s voices. Quantitative and qualitative research is underway to further understand the lived experience of women when using London’s transport system and will shortly be conducting women’s safety audits in five locations throughout the city. This information to ensure policy makers and space managers fully understand how women’s feelings of safety in a variety of location types can be improved.

Education with younger generations is another large component of TFL’s  program. Staff visit schools and speak to 14 -15 year old girls and boys about what constitutes sexual harassment, recognizing that this is not just an issue on public transportation issue but throughout society.

TfL also ensures the workforce is covered through the program, recognizing that they’re not only customers of the network, but workplace culture and support for women has the same level of importance. A domestic abuse policy was rolled out last year and workplace sexual harassment guidance is in development and they continue to raise awareness.

TFL’s ambition is to empower women to travel more and send a message to perpetrators that their actions will not be tolerated.


Mexico City

With Director of Strategic Coordination at the Secretariat of Mobility, Vianney Rosales

Mexico City has identified three principal issues that reduce a woman’s possibility of moving freely, safely, and with dignity through the city:

From this initial diagnosis, the government of Mexico City created their “Strategic Plan of Gender and Mobility”  with three strategic axes:

  1. Reducing sexual violence against women in public transportation
  2. Addressing the needs and travel patterns of women effectively 
  3. Strengthening gender parity and institutional culture in the mobility sector

Perhaps most notably, Mexico City has created specific areas in the metro and the metrobus exclusively for women and girls, and female riders have reported feeling safer traveling in those spaces. To support this program, the city also created a communications campaign explaining why it was important to respect these single-sex spaces in order to increase knowledge about different types of violence against women in public transportation.

Last year, the city implemented “the women’s line”, *765”, which provides guidance, reporting services, and general assistance from  the Secretariat of Women.

This year, the Secretariat of Women teamed up with the Secretariat of Mobility, the Prosecutor’s Office and Police, Civic Judges, the Police Control Center and other public transportation organizations to focus on action and monitoring guidelines for sexual violence in the Integrated Public Transportation system. These guidelines aim  to establish effective procedures to prioritize support for victims of abuse and harassment. This recognizes that despite their best intentions, often , transportation employees do not know how to identify and take action in instances of  violence. Now buttons have been  introduced on buses, and a mobile app allows taxi riders to alert police in case of an  emergency. The city is also committed to making spaces safer and more accessible to women by investing in infrastructure that aims to improve security, including lighting and overall maintenance.

Finally, the Cablebús has become a trademark innovation in Mexico City that guarantees women and girls can move in parts of the city that were previously harder to navigate with the use of cable cars. The stations for the Cablebús are located in communal areas near schools, markets, and community centers, meeting women where they often are.


Key takeaways

While there is no one-size-fits-all to respond to the needs of a city, we can draw global learnings. Our cities have offered some of the following insights:

The range of interventions presented during this call prove the depth of commitment of CHANGE cities in tackling gender-based violence in transportation. Thank you to Ambassadors Gao and Hachigian for convening this call and inviting our network experts to share their innovative approaches! We hope this will help other urban planners make their cities more equitable for women and more equitable for all.


About the speakers

Diana Rodríguez Franco

Secretary for Women’s Affairs

Diana Rodríguez Franco is the Secretary for Women’s Affairs in Bogotá, under Mayor Claudia Lopez. Rodríguez Franco has dedicated her life to the study and defense of human rights. As Deputy Director and researcher at the Center for the Study of Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia)/ Centro de Estudios de Derecho, Justicia y Sociedad (Dejusticia), she has focused on citizen participation, forced displacement, access to health and environmental policy topics. She was also the founder of the Raising Peace campaign, which helped pregnant and lactating ex-combatant women in their transition to peace. She holds a PhD in sociology from Northwestern University, with a master’s degree in sociology from the same university, and she holds law and economics degrees from the Universidad de Los Andes.

Blai Martí Plademunt

Gender Mainstreaming Officer

Based in Barcelona, Blai is an expert in gender mainstreaming in local policies. Specialised in gender budgeting, mobility services and urban planning. He is also a trainer in gender equality, coeducational approach or gender indicators. His academic research centers on intersectional policies, with a focus on cultural origin and sexual orientation.

Vianney Rosales

Director of Strategic Coordination at the Secretariat of Mobility


Vianney is the Director of Strategic Coordination of the Ministry of Mobility in Mexico City, in charge of guiding the process of effective integration between organizations of public transportation system and coordinating the design and monitoring of the implementation of tof the gender and mobility transversal strategy. She has over 13 years of experience in the private and public sectors and has participated in different urban planning projects, socioeconomic evaluations, road infrastructure, and public transportation. Vianney is an economist from the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM) and with a master’s degree in Urban Development from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

Georgina Carey

Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Policy Manager

Georgina oversees Transport for London’s Ending Violence against Women and Girls program, and leads on a number of the key projects including the co-commissioning of women’s safety audits, increasing ways to support customers and staff affected by domestic abuse, and developing workplace sexual harassment guidance.

Photo of Barcelona skyline

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