On The Move: What You And The City Can Do To Close The Gender Gap In Urban Mobility

The way we design our cities are far from being gender-neutral. In their paper, Laeticia Gauvin, Michele Tizzoni, and others reveal the gender gap that exists in urban mobility.

The metrics

For the study, the researchers chose the city of Santiago in Chile. In order to get an idea on how each sex moves about the metropolitan region, they studied the mobility patterns of   418,624 individuals. They did this by analysing their anonymised call activity for two months.

To assess and compare the mobility of males and females, four variables were measured:

  • Number of distinct locations visited (Nl)
  • Number of distinct locations accounting for 80% of user calling activity (Nl*): The locations where 80% of user calling activity are defined by the researchers as the “core locations” of an individual.
  • Shannon mobility entropy (S) : A low S value means that a person distributes their trips over some few select locations. On the other hand, a high S value means a person goes to a variety of locations with little preference.
  • Radius of gyration (rg) : this measures the characteristic distance an individual typically travels. Larger values of rg mean an individual travels long distances. Smaller rg values mean that an individual’s movement is localized.

The results

The calculation of the four mobility metrics revealed some interesting gender disparities on urban mobility:

1. Women visit fewer unique locations than men

This can be attributed to women having to perform traditionally-gendered roles such as shopping and doing household chores. These roles take up most of their time, preventing them from visiting more city locations or having the freedom to go to places other than their chores.

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2. Women’s trips are distributed among few highly preferred locations

Women tend to engage in multi-purpose and multi-stop trips. This behaviour is known as trip-chaining. This is attributed to women having to perform gender-specific roles on a regular basis. An example of this multi-purpose, multi-stop trips is: a woman can drive her kids to school first, then go to work after, then she’d pick up the kids, go to the grocery, buy some food or do some other errands before going home.

3. Women’s travel patterns are localized

Given that women are occupied with the traditional roles in their daily lives, the distances they travel is comparatively less than those of men. Their travel patterns tend to revolve around their local communities most of the time.

What cities can do

Insecurity and fear of sexual harassment are some issues that restrain the movement of women. The way cities position bus stops and how they pay attention to the lighting conditions of the city can significantly alter how women move in the streets.

City planners should consider the unique mobility needs of women in their designs to empower them to be on the move. Aside from safety, several factors such as ease of mobility for mothers carrying baby strollers, mothers accompanying small children or pregnant women should be considered.

What we can do

On top of physical constraints is the power hierarchy based on gender that is sadly still prevalent over the globe. Even the best-designed cities will not suffice if we refuse to dismantle the traditional gender roles that are deeply entrenched in our society. These traditions disempower women not only in mobility but also in other factors such as employment opportunities, income, and education.

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Together with the change of the way we design our cities should also be a change of heart of the city’s dwellers.

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