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Women Face Transportation Hurdles

August 10, 2010

Studies in Morocco, West Bank and Yemen Aim to Inform Public Transport Strategies

Gender Action Plan transport studies of 2008 and 2010 in Casablanca, Morocco, the West Bank, rural and urban Yemen, revealed that women face higher costs and bigger hurdles to getting around than men. The studies concluded that the transportation systems do not adequately serve the needs of female populations in these areas, but predictable public transport schedules, sidewalks and street lighting, increased numbers of bus stops and pedestrian crossings, could all improve their mobility and safety while traveling.

" Women find they cannot reconcile the needs of family life with the needs of their employment "

Jean-Charles Crochet

World Bank Transport Economist, led the studies in Yemen and Casablanca

Women tend to use public transportation more than men, but limited transportation routes or schedules restrict the ways in which they live their lives. They also spend 15-20 percent more than men on transportation in the West Bank and urban Yemen, according to the studies, because they are more constrained than their male counterparts by cultural and societal factors as well as by family duties. Safety and hygiene concern them too, especially when they travel with children.

Women have multiple roles. They work outside the home, fulfill wide-ranging family needs outside of typical commuting hours and require access to education and health services for themselves and their children. This means that they have “a different way of moving,” says Lamis Aljounaidi, a former junior professional associate at the World Bank, who managed the studies in the West Bank and Yemen.

“We want people to be better aware that there is a gender dimension to transport,” says World Bank Transport Economist, Jean-Charles Crochet, who led the studies in Yemen and Casablanca.

Difficult Commutes in Morocco

The studies indicate that transportation barriers affect women’s ability to earn an income.

“Women living in the rapidly growing Casablanca suburbs, for instance, face difficult commutes to textile factories where there is demand for labor,” says Crochet, adding, “The study shows that women want to participate in the workforce, but the transport system, which does not perform well, does not help…It’s difficult to go from certain parts of town to the industrial zones. Women find they cannot reconcile the needs of family life with the needs of their employment.”

Nevertheless, women’s growing participation in labor markets has had drastic consequences on the demand for urban transport in Morocco. In response, Morocco is now eyeing new strategies for urban transport throughout the country.

In early 2011, the World Bank approved a Euro 100 million development policy loan in support of this effort.

Few Women Workers in the West Bank

In the West Bank, women make up less than 15 percent of the workforce, despite a female literacy rate of 90 percent—the highest in the Middle East and North Africa.

“One of the main reasons for women’s low levels of employment is accessibility—the lack of smooth access from their home to the workplace and back,” says Ibrahim Dajani, a senior operations officer who led the West Bank study.

A working woman here typically faces a long and uncertain commute that may involve switching between different modes of transportation or multiple vehicles—mainly buses or shared taxis that rarely take people directly to their destinations. In addition, checkpoints may cause further delays that are unacceptable to working mothers.

“Private taxis are too expensive for most people, and private transportation (i.e., cars) is usually used by a male member of the family,” says Aljounaidi. While 21 percent of men use privately-owned means of transport (cars, etc.), only 8 percent of women do so. The others (92 percent of the women surveyed and 79 percent of the men) walk or use public transportation.

“When resources are limited, men tend to take them and it has always been like that,” says Aljounaidi. “Women tend to take public transportation and walk more than men, and that is why women experience more problems, because public transportation is difficult and sidewalks are very bad. This impacts women more than men because they have less access to private transportation.”

Dajani says that transportation on the West Bank could become more efficient and acceptable to women. As government resources are limited, however, the effort would likely involve consolidating the many privately-owned bus companies in order to make transport and access to the finance required to replace the aging bus fleet more viable.

A separate but complementary World Bank-financed study proposed a pilot project in which bus companies in the northern West Bank merge, adopt integrated fares and allow transfers to lower costs for operators and customers.

“The pilot would involve studying each route and seeing who the clients are, along with their destinations, in order to restructure the routes to benefit not only women and men but also vulnerable groups,” says Dajani.

Transportation and Education in Yemen

In Yemen, less forms of transportation are available. Those that are, are more costly for women than men. In rural Yemen, social pressure “greatly constrains” women’s mobility. Transportationcosts women 50 percent more than men because they must ride in covered vehicles—and many cannot afford to pay. The result is that women tend to walk.

The study notes that roads have, however, brought schools and health care facilities to villages, or to more accessible locations, giving women better access to basic education and mother and child care.

"It is impossible for women to get an education if there is not a secure means of transport, because the family will just not let her go." Jean-Charles Crochet

About 55 percent of women had at least a basic education in communities where a road had existed for 15 years or more, versus some 32 percent in places without a road. About 40 percent of women had access to mother and child care facilities in areas with an old road, and 18 percent in places where a road had been recently built, but only 5 percent had such services if there was no road at all.

In Yemen’s capital city, Sana’a, infrastructure has lowered the cost of access to education, services, jobs and economic opportunities for women in established areas of the city. But safer, more secure urban transportation could enhance these opportunities further, says Crochet.

“What is important in Yemen is access to education—whether it is education for young women, or continuing education for women who may already have a job. It is impossible for women to get an education if there is not a secure means of transport, because the family will just not let her go. So urban transport has a tremendous impact on the ability of young women to improve themselves.”