10. Women and SDG 11 – sustainable cities and communities: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

This chapter focuses on the interaction between gender equality (SDG 5) and the promotion of inclusive and sustainable communities, with a focus on urban areas (SDG 11). The main findings and recommendations include the following:

  • Growing urbanisation, combined with the continuous expansion of world population, are exacerbating a number of social and environmental challenges, including housing shortages, urban sprawl, carbon emissions, air pollution and land degradation.

  • Air pollution is most damaging for the health of children, the elderly and women, in particular during pregnancy. Furthermore, women account for an over-proportionate share of low-income citizens, which tend to be closest to the most polluted parts of cities.

  • Natural disasters tend to kill more women than men. Women appear to be among the most affected by natural disasters occurring in urban areas, especially when they live in the poorer neighbourhoods. They are more likely to be the last ones to leave home (or stay at home) in cases of natural disasters, due to existing gender inequality in terms of access to resources and the gendered division of labour.

  • Inadequate and unsafe transport infrastructure has a greater negative impact on women’s economic opportunities, when compared to those of men. Women are generally more sensitive to time constraints and put a higher opportunity cost on travel time because of their different household, family and work responsibilities. Safety is also a top priority for women which increases the attractiveness of public transport.

  • Women’s transport and mobility preferences are often more sustainable than those of men, as women follow more sustainable travel patterns. Adapting public transport to women’s needs (in particular regarding safety and multimodality), could therefore lead to more sustainable transport patterns, enhance women’s well-being and improve their economic opportunities.

  • The interaction between gender equality and urban and transport development requires an intersectional analysis that takes into account other factors such as race and socio-economic status.

  • Better representation of women in urban design and planning related decision-making and professions could help make cities and settlements more women-sensitive, and in turn, help optimise infrastructure investments to meet the needs of all the population.

  • There is a need to collect evidence at the local level on women’s transport and mobility patterns, as well as preferences and time use statistics. Understanding better women’s travel needs is a prerequisite for making the right decisions regarding sustainable urban and transport development.

  • Cities should develop comprehensive strategies on safety, with a specific focus on violence against women. More broadly, transport, land-use strategies, policies and projects need to take into account the needs of women, and their role should be promoted in developing national urban policies. Strategies and measures concerning resilience against natural disasters would also benefit from gender mainstreaming.

Fifty-five percent of the world’s population lives in cities and the share is growing rapidly, could reach 60% by 2030 and 70% by 2050 (86% in OECD countries) (UN, 2018[1]). Cities are the source of well-paid, high quality jobs, education, health and social services. However, they are also linked to a high concentration of inequalities and are the source of much of the world’s growing environmental problems. Cities account for more than 70% of the total global energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (OECD, 2017[2]); (United Nations, 2017[3]). Growing urbanisation, combined with the continuous expansion of world population, will exacerbate a number of social and environmental challenges, including congestion, housing shortages, carbon emissions, air pollution and land degradation.

The problems are more intense in cities undergoing very rapid expansion where housing construction and public infrastructure developments are not keeping up with the rapidly growing population. In low income countries (LICs), 66% of the urban population in 2018 lived in slum conditions without access to clean water, sanitation, education and social services. Sub-Saharan Africa is the geographical region with most slum households in cities, reaching 54% (Figure 10.1). Even though there seems to be a decrease in the percentage of people living in slums, the absolute number of the world’s slum population has been rising over the past 25 years, from 650 million in 1990 to nearly 1 billion in 2016 (Clos, 2016[4]).

The way cities are designed and governed, including the services offered, have implications for most SDGs. For instance, access to health care (SDG 4) and education (SDG 3) depend on the location of the respective health and education centres and their accessibility (i.e. transport network). At the same time, increased urbanisation has led to high levels of air and water pollution (SDG 3 and SDG 6), pressures on waste management (SDG 12) and a growing reliance on fossil fuels as a source of energy (SDG 7).

Urban planning and infrastructure development have traditionally been considered gender-neutral. However, women and men relate to urban and settlement design, and transport infrastructure differently due to different social roles, occupational patterns and preferences (SDG 5). Urban and settlement planning and transport infrastructure do not take into account the needs and the lives of its different users including women and girls, as documented in the World Bank’s Handbook for Gender-Inclusive Urban Planning and Design (WBG, 2020[5]). This can in turn significantly reduce economic opportunities and well-being of these users by increasing the time and means they spend on commuting, and at the same time, contribute to air pollution and inefficient resource use. They could also lead to increasing safety and security risks, intensifying phenomena such as violence against women.

Urban and settlement development sectors - housing, transport, and land use – have marked implications on gender equality goals through three key dimensions: user patterns (accessibly, safety and affordability), labour market participation (employment and participation in decision-making), and spill over effects (social and environmental). Women’s greater involvement in decision-making in these sectors could help reduce the overall environmental footprint of infrastructure in urban areas, and make it more gender-inclusive.

Sustainable urban planning and transport systems encompass in their definition both environmental sustainability and inclusiveness. Inclusiveness is, in turn, created by prioritising accessibility, instead of mobility (OECD, 2019[6]). Women’s mobility patterns benefit much more from a turn to accessibility, hence a turn to more sustainable urban planning, design, and transport. This also applies to access to social infrastructure.

The risks of uncontrolled urbanisation, urban sprawl and slums are greater for women for a variety of factors, ranging from higher exposure to or effects of pollutants in housing and outdoors, to gender-based violence. Women and children are most exposed to indoor air pollution in developing countries, where biomass is still used for heating and cooking, causing about 4 million deaths a year (WHO, 2018[7]). As women spend more time at home than men and are more frequent users of household cleaning products, they are also more exposed to certain hazardous chemicals (Hertz-Picciotto et al., 2010[8]).

The growth of cities and expansion of urban areas has also led to a growing exposure of the population to outdoor air pollution. Studies have consistently shown that air pollution is most damaging for the health of children, the elderly and women, in particular during pregnancy (Section 3.2.1). Furthermore, women account for an over-proportionate share of low income citizens, which tend to be closest to the most polluted parts of cities (e.g. heavy traffic, factories, etc.).

Pollution has more intense effects on women through other channels. As they are mainly responsible for caring obligations in the household, they are more likely to be the ones staying at home with children during high pollution days, reducing their employment opportunities (Aragón, Miranda and Oliva, 2017[9]) (Montt, 2018[10]). Research also provides a link between air pollution and psychological factors affecting mental and physical health (Zhang, Zhang and Chen, 2015[11]) (Kioumourtzoglou et al., 2017[12]), cognitive performance (Chen, Zhang and Zhang, 2017[13]) and even violent behaviour, of which women are the main victims (Truman, Morgan and Statisticians, 2014[14]) (Burkhardt et al., 2019[15]).

Gender inequality in urban pollution exposure and other environmental stressors can benefit from an intersectional analysis that takes into account other factors such as race and socio-economic status. For example, persistent environmental injustice means that disproportionately high numbers of ethnic-minority households in North America and Europe live near incinerators and landfills, and schools with high proportions of ethnic or national minority students are located near highways and industrial sites (Martuzzi, Mitis and Forastiere, 2010[16]) (Kweon et al., 2016[17]). In the United States, research shows that racial and ethnic minorities, especially in metropolitan areas with high residential segregation, are more exposed to higher levels of air pollution (NO2, PM2.5 and PM10) than Whites1, because these groups are closely located to roads, industrial and construction sites (Woo et al., 2019[18]). Understanding how these urban inequalities might interplay with gender inequality is crucial for conceptualising the burden on women.

Women’s health is also particularly sensitive to the lack of sanitation and clean water (mainly in developing countries) (WHO and UNICEF, 2017[19]), smog and other forms of pollution (including chemicals contamination) during times of pregnancy (Inyinbor Adejumoke et al., 2018[20]) (Bergman, Rüegg and Drakvik, 2019[21]) (Leiser et al., 2019[22]) (Freia Project, 2020[23]). Obesity and related diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular problems are also more likely to arise in an urban setting. People’s sedentary lifestyles and changing eating habits in cities are key drivers of such health effects (Smith S. et al, 2012[24]) (Gassasse et al., 2017[25]) (Congdon, 2019[26]). This is becoming the trend also in developing countries, where the phenomena of malnutrition (over-nutrition or under-nutrition) are more and more frequent (Kuddus, Tynan and McBryde, 2020[27]) (Yarahmadi et al., 2013[28]). Women in urban areas seem to be the ones more affected by obesity in low income countries; whereas in high income countries obesity is widespread among both women and men in disadvantaged groups (Swinburn et al., 2011[29]). Among other policies such as changing nutritional habits, better access to sports and recreation facilities for both children and adults is necessary, as it would allow for more exercise and a turn to healthier life-styles for urban dwellers. Other infrastructure such as bicycle lanes and public green spaces could also offer an incentive for people to exercise more, in addition to further supporting women’s mobility which is more sustainable than that of men (Section 10.3.3).

Studies of the impact of natural disasters have also shown that on average they kill more women than men (Neumayer and Plümper, 2007[30]); (Islam, 2012[31]). Such phenomena are becoming more frequent, driven by the effect of climate change on extreme weather events. Women appear to be among the most affected by natural disasters occurring in urban areas, especially when they live in poorer neighbourhoods. For instance, the 2011 floods at the coastal city of Lagos, Nigeria, killed 100 people, and displaced thousands, causing about USD 320 million worth of damages. Women living in the city’s slums were highly affected by the floods, which caused damages to their homes and properties, illness and injuries; leading to increasing caring responsibilities and lack of sanitation and health; when compared with women in other affected areas (Ajibade, McBean and Bezner-Kerr, 2013[32]). In an Oxfam study on deaths resulting from the 2004 Tsunami in coastal Indonesia, women and girls accounted for more than three-quarters of deaths in most of the surveyed villages (Oxfam International, 2005[33]). In 1991, during the cyclone disasters in Bangladesh, of the 140 000 people who died, 90% were women (Ikeda, 1995[34]). In industrialised countries, more women than men died during the heat wave that affected Europe in 2003, and in France most deaths were among elderly women (Pirard et al., 2005[35]). Natural disasters also affect the city structure, as they destroy houses and livelihoods. In the case of the heatwave in Europe, the existing housing structures and facilities were inefficient to deal with the high temperatures (Ogg, 2005[36]).

The disproportionately high female death rate in natural disasters results from women staying in risk-prone zones to pursue domestic duties, while men are more likely to be away from home or have access to transport and thus flee quickly. Women are more likely to be the last ones to leave home (or stay at home) in cases of natural disasters, due to existing gender inequality in terms of access to resources and the gendered division of labour. In coastal Indonesia and Sri Lanka women spent precious seconds looking for relatives and children when the wave hit, and that more men than women knew how to swim (Oxfam International, 2005[37]).

Women and girls also face a heightened risk of gender-based violence during and following natural disasters. In the absence of social protection schemes and in situations in which there is food insecurity combined with impunity for gender-based violence, women and girls are often exposed to sexual violence and exploitation as they attempt to gain access to food and other basic needs for family members and themselves. Women and girls with disabilities are at a particular risk of gender-based violence and sexual exploitation during and following disasters, due to discrimination on the basis of physical limitations and barriers to communication and the inaccessibility of basic services and facilities (Castañeda Carney et al., 2020[38]).

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-30) acknowledges women’s role in risk management and reduction and resilience building. It includes references to promoting gender equality (participation in decision making and resource management, and access to social protection measures, education, health and early warning etc.). The 2015 Paris Agreement emphasised the contribution of gender equality and empowerment of women to fighting climate change as well as the specific impact of climate change on women. Improved coherence between climate and disaster risk reduction frameworks is considered imperative for more effective policy deployment (OECD, 2020[39]). Looking at the differentiated effects of extreme weather events and natural hazards to women, gender-sensitive risk prevention and adaptation measures should be also prioritised. Such measures should build on including women in the administrative, decision-making and development of preventive measures; as well as addressing inequalities that exacerbate the vulnerability of certain population groups to such events. Mainstreaming gender equality in financing disaster relief is also key.

For instance, after the 2005 earthquake in the Pakistan-administered Azad Kashmir region which left over 85,000 people dead, the Earthquake-Displaced People Livelihood Assistance Restoration Program included a Gender Vulnerability Action Plan. Funds were directed specifically to improving women’s access to rights and entitlements of land and home ownership. All new houses were registered under the names of both wife and husband. The plan also set targets to provide equitable access to housing reconstruction by ensuring a 50% female representation in the Village Reconstruction Committees. In addition, women had to make up 50% of participants trained in housing reconstruction and other non-traditional skills. While the programme had positive effects and allowed a large number of women rebuild their homes, results fell short of expectations. It showed, however, that while gender-specific plans are an important start, they cannot alone ensure gender equality and hence, additional time and resources need to be allocated to ensure that gender mainstreaming in disaster reconstruction plans are truly successful (WBG, 2020[5]).

Typical city design, with segregated areas for residences, workplaces and shopping, reflects the one-earner household paradigm and smaller cities of the 20th century; commute time between these areas makes it particularly difficult for a single individual to take on a double or triple burden of childcare, breadwinning and elderly care. While in some countries, policies and societal norms are adapting to improve burden-sharing, women’s participation in economic activities is still more restricted than men’s because of the way urban areas are designed and how they have expanded over the years.

In developed countries, women more often than men find themselves with the double (or triple) burden of looking after their children and elderly family members, while providing income to the household at the same time. Worldwide, women spend on average three times more time on unpaid care work than men do. In South Asia, the gap is much greater, with women spending 7.5 times more time than men (Figure 10.2). In the United Kingdom, for instance, one in four women are responsible for taking care of an elder with a chronic illness or disability as well as a child, as opposed to one in six men. There are currently 2.4 million people who are “sandwiched” into providing for both generations.

Due to this added pressure, women are twice as likely as men to give up their work and four times more likely to take on part-time jobs (Holzhausen, 2014[40]). Women are also more often than men obliged to combine multiple jobs. For instance, in the United States 6.7% of women aged 20 to 24 work multiple jobs compared to 4.6% of men in the same age group (Wilson, 2015[41]) (Figure 10.3). The burden is greatest for single mothers, who account for almost 6% of all households in OECD countries – four times more prevalent than single father households (OECD, 2011[42]). In the United States, 82.2% of custodial parents are mothers compared to 17.8% custodial fathers (Grall, 2013[43]).

Easy access to affordable children and elderly care facilities are essential to facilitate women’s participation in the economy, while allowing them to fulfil their family responsibilities. Yet, in many countries, access to such facilities is limited, too expensive, or inconveniently located. Developing such services can bring about immediate benefits. In Hamburg, Germany, the abolishment of a range of fees associated with schooling and day-care, and a guaranteed place in kindergarten crèche, or other day care institution for children over one year of age, has led to more children staying in school until late afternoon. This has also had the effect of supporting women to participate in the labour force, and providing choice and flexibility to families (OECD, 2016[44]). In addition to the cost, the location of such care services is critical, as women and men display different mobility preferences and patterns.

Men and women typically use transport differently, but in the past transport policies have not considered gender-specific patterns of transport use (Sarmiento, 1996[45]). In some countries, women still face some legal and social barriers to travel freely, as it is the example of Qatar, where guardianship rules still limit women’s ability to travel. Even when women have legal access to transport, they still face the disproportionate effects of inadequate transport which limit can limit their economic opportunities, when compared to those of men, as women are generally more sensitive to time constraints and put a higher opportunity cost on travel time (OECD, 2012[46]). For example, changes in commuting distances may have greater impacts on women, who have different mobility patterns, as they are usually responsible for double or triple burden of childcare, breadwinning and elderly care (Kwan, 1999[47]); (Kwan and Kotsev, 2015[48]).

Travel patterns may also be influenced by the density of urban sprawl. Urban sprawl generally leads to longer commuting distances, causing loss of time and productivity (OECD, 2018[49]). It usually creates greater public infrastructure requirements, including sufficient road network and public transportation, leading to higher public service provision costs and higher living costs for the local population. Taking into consideration that women are the ones in charge of the majority of non-work related travelling within a household, especially when it relates to children, and irrespective of the income disparities between the two sexes, more multifunctional land use and better local transport services can enhance gender equality and women’s economic empowerment, while at the same time boosting more sustainable forms of transport (Boarnet and Hsu, 2015[50]).

Neglecting women’s preferences of transport and mobility may limit women’s economic participation. In particular, high commuting costs may have a negative effect on women’s access to full-time employment in large metropolitan areas. In Tokyo, for instance, women with lower incomes usually live further from the business districts than men while higher commuting costs, or high housing prices in the city centre, create obstacles for women to enter the full-time labour market (Abe, 2011[51]). When making employment decisions, women put greater importance on the convenience of commuting than men, who generally prioritise salary over commute time (Nafilyan, 2019[52]).

Studies have found a negative correlation between commuting time and women’s participation in the labour force. An increase of one minute in commuting time in metropolitan areas is associated with approximately 0.3 percentage point decline in the women’s labour force participation – reflecting women’s mobility patterns: they do not simply commute but do a lot of additional travel (Black, Kolesnikova and Taylor, 2014[53]). Another study from the Office for National Statistics in the United Kingdom found that men tend to have longer commutes than women and the commuting gap follows the same age-pattern as the gender pay gap. Commuting time is more important in women’s decision to leave one’s job while hourly rate has a greater impact on men, which suggests women prefer jobs with shorter commutes and higher flexibility, at the expense of pay. This is often an indicator of their need to perform other non-paid labour roles such as dealing with family and caring responsibilities (ONS, 2019[54]).

Women and men also display different mobility patterns. Women on average travel less often and for shorter distances than men (Moriarty and Honnery, 2005[55]) and are more willing to reduce vehicle use than men (Polk, 2003[56]) (Polk, 2004[57]). A recent study of eight European and Asian cities confirms that women travel shorter trips on average than men, use public transport more and travel more during off-peak hours (Ng and Acker, 2018[58]). A 2019 study on Santiago, Chile using big data collected by passengers’ mobile phone use, shows that women and girls often engage in multi-purpose trips, covering different chores linked to household groceries, childcare and work. Women also tend to spread their trips between a smaller number of destinations when compared to men, and they also tend to visit locations closer to home. Female mobility patterns also vary based on income and employment (Gauvin et al., 2019[59])

Since women have more complex travel patterns, they tend to prefer more flexible modes. At the same time, since they have a higher preference for public transport, emerging trends such as shared mobility or mobility as a service, could attract more female than male users. Such solutions would also help mitigate the environmental costs of transport (Ng and Acker, 2018[58]).

Some travel surveys and limited gender-based data available for OECD and European countries seem to indicate that women follow a more sustainable travel behaviour (Samek Lodovici et al., 2012[60]). When given better alternatives, women may choose to give up driving altogether. If cities want to further encourage the development of flexible and sustainable modes of transport, policies to address women users’ preferences should be implemented as women will be the dominating users.

Furthermore, research shows that women are more interested in making decisions for environmental or ecological reasons. This can be seen by their choice of private vehicles (i.e. in developed countries, women influence heavily the final decision of the purchase of a family vehicle). They tend to choose fuel- efficient smaller cars, with safety aspects being crucial, but are less interested with the status the vehicle may bring. That said, as women often play an important role in the purchase of the main family vehicle, they may be influenced to buy heavier cars, which are promoted as being safer. Often women prioritise safety above fuel economy in relation to transport. From their perspective, fuel economy may appear to be less important than safety (SUM4All, 2019[61]).

However, women’s more sustainable travel patterns have not been examined thoroughly enough to see how they could further support the decline of private car usage, nor to see how they could set the scene for a shift in the travel patterns of men. Also, more analysis would be welcomed to show how these travel patterns are aligned with fluctuations in income, fuel prices and environment-related tax-policies, which lead to changes in demand. Hence, implementing a gender equality lens to the development of public transport networks and emerging mobility services could boost women’s economic empowerment. At the same time, a dialogue with women users could help policy-makers with integrating gender-based analysis in developing the public transport networks, as well as prioritising more sustainable travel, thus potentially limiting cities’ adverse environmental impacts, including carbon emissions.

Safety is a major concern for women, more so than men, which determines their choices across all transport modes. Safety is also the top priority insisted upon by women as a condition for their use of public transport (Bray, Holyoak and Bray, 2015[62]); (Ng and Acker, 2018[58]); (Civitas, n.d.[63]). This is notably the case in urban areas where more women than men use public transport and heavily depend on these systems for their mobility needs. Guaranteeing women’s safety in cities and public transport will further increase usage of more sustainable modes of transport, such as walking, cycling and public transport. Modes often preferred by women.

Women in both developed and developing countries have reported feeling unsafe using public transport services (Yavuz and Welch, 2010[64]) (OECD, 2019[65]). Violence against women and girls affects multiple aspects of their lives. In 2011 a Gallup survey with data from 143 countries found that on average only 62% of women responded positively when asked whether they feel safe walking alone at night. Men giving the same response rose to 72%. The gap was much higher in high income countries, with only 59% of women responding positively, compared to 82% of men (Crabtree and Nsubuga, 2011[66]). A NGO 2018 study on sexual harassment and assault in the United States found that 81% of females had experienced harassment in public spaces and public transport (SSH, 2018[67]). In Mexico, 71% of women report feeling insecure in public transport (OECD, 2017[68]).

This is not only morally unacceptable in itself; it also causes economic and social harm, reinforcing inequality (ITF, 2019[69]). A 2017 International Labour Organisation (ILO) study on safety involving a large-scale survey of women’s use of transport in developing countries shows that limited access to safe transportation is the greatest challenge to greater participation by women in the labour market, reducing their participation by 15.5 percentage points (ILO, 2017[70]). Unsafe public transport also creates additional environmental costs, to the extent that men and women who would have otherwise used it turn instead to private vehicles.

Examples provided in the International Transport Forum’s (ITF) “Compendium on Women’s Safety and Security: A Public Transport Priority” (2018) show that a large majority of women worldwide feel unsafe in public transport and have been victims of some type of physical or verbal harassment and other forms of violence in public spaces (ITF, 2018[71]). As a result, women often prefer driving when faced with a modal choice, using taxis or other forms of for-hire ride services rather than walking, cycling or using public transport.

For instance, ITF (2018) reports a London survey that found that 28% of women who have used public transport in the past 12 months say they experienced unwarranted staring, sexual comments, bodily contact, wolf-whistling and exposure (ITF, 2018[71]). In Latin America alone, six-in-ten women say they have been physically harassed while using public transport. The statistics are alarming in many Asian countries as well. Women in Bangladesh face high levels of inequality in livelihood opportunities and access to economic assets. Women’s participation in the workforce remains low, at an estimated 34%, while in rural areas women own only 8% of productive assets. According to estimates, around 94% of women commuting in public transport have experienced sexual harassment in verbal, physical and other forms. In Jakarta, nearly 90% of women found the safety of trains to be poor or very poor, whereas only 35% of men held a similar concern for security (Turner, 2011[72]).

If cities want to increase their public sustainable transport use and occupancy rates, and therefore reduce GHG emissions from road transport, the safety of their services must be ensured. This will both attract more women passengers and improve the experience of the substantial share of existing women users.

Most cities do not have transport programmes or policies that are focused on improving the user experience of women transit riders considering their off-peak time of travel and non-commute trip purpose. Yet, by better tailoring public transport to women’s preferences and needs, its appeal can increase, leading to cleaner cities and greater economic opportunities for women. One city that does consider gender aspects in its urban planning is Vienna. Prompted by a survey in the late 1990s on the use of public transport by men and women, data is now collected to determine how different groups of people use public transport and spaces before an infrastructure project gets underway (Foran, 2013[73]).

The Los Angeles METRO bus system noted a 39% decrease in total crime and a 60% decrease in operator assaults between 2017 and 2018 thanks to implementing the safety measures that included greater presence of transit and local police, video cameras to document and deter assaults, and training for transit operators on the best ways to de-escalate confrontations (ITF, 2018[71]).

Women’s mobility and use of public transport is also affected by comfort and physical accessibility (Civitas, n.d.[63]). Beyond guaranteeing safe access to bus and metro stations, many times women – as well as elderly or other vulnerable groups - have different needs concerning the vehicle’s design and technology. Added to the specific route patterns of women (with bus stops placed close to schools and nurseries for example), and to security in public transportation, public transportation also have shortcomings concerning the “comfort measures”. For example, given that women are more likely to travel with children or elderly dependents, they would benefit from buses with a lowering platform, appropriate railings for safe holding, ramps and designated space for access with baby-strollers or shopping bags. In Santiago, Chile, women’s needs and preferences have been taken into consideration when upgrading the bus fleet (ITF, 2019[74]).

While women are more exposed to the risks of urban living they are also in a unique position to make urban life more inclusive and safe. As more vulnerable users, they can help identify and support better policies for all.

While women account for a large proportion of employment in the public sector in regional and local governments, they are underrepresented in decision-making responsibilities. There is a growing number of female mayors, such as Barcelona, Madrid, Paris and Singapore, but there is no internationally available data. Preliminary data for nine OECD countries show an average 5% of mayors are female – ranging from 0% to 32% (OECD, 2020[75]). A 2016 survey in 100 cities in the United States indicated that only 25% of mayors were female (Levine Einstein, Glick and LeBlanc, 2017[76]).

In order to plan and design transport systems and infrastructure with women in mind, the sector needs more women in the transport workforce. Women passengers also feel safer when they ride with women drivers, who are considered to be safer drivers (Marsh, 2004[77]); (IFC, 2020[78]). This is especially critical in developing cities, where efficient, equitable and safe public transport modes play an important role in regulating the growing share of private vehicle use, including motorcycles.

Yet, in research recently conducted by the ITF on 47 countries across the world, it was found that female participation in the transport sector was 17% on average in 2018, and some of the countries with the smallest gender gaps are experiencing declines in female participation in the sector (Ng and Acker, 2020[79]). In OECD countries women account on average for only 22% of employment in the transport sector, with a larger percentage of them occupying positions in air transport and postal and courier activities (Figure 10.4). In Mexico, Colombia and Turkey men account for over 90% of transport jobs. On the other hand, women in the transport sector surpass 30% in Iceland, and 28% in the United States. In the 21 APEC economies, fewer than 20% of transport jobs are held by women (OECD, 2019[65]). Despite women’s presence in the sector, they usually occupy administrative, catering and low-paid positions, while they are almost absent from international road haulage or maritime services (SUM4All, 2019[61]). In the United States, in 2015 women comprised only 15% of transport and related occupations and only 4.6% of commercial truck drivers were women (Olczak-Rancitelli, 2015[80]). Increasing female participation in the transport workforce will require measures addressing problems in recruitment, retention and long-term career advancement.

In most countries, women are also hardly represented in decision-making positions in infrastructure development. Globally, females only make up 18% of leadership in infrastructure ministries (energy, transport and communications) compared to 38% in socio-cultural ministries (health, education, family and youth) (Wilson Center, 2018[81]). Moreover, they only make up 16% of leadership in economy and finance ministries, thus having a limited influence in investment decisions in infrastructure development at the national level (for more on women in leadership positions see Section 2.3). Out of the 62 member countries of the ITF, only 11 countries have female Ministers of Transport in 2020. Having more women on boards of transport companies can also help increase the use of public transport (and hence deliver environmental gains) by focusing more on women’s needs such as the availability of public transport at off-peak hours, specific transport routes, flexible transport modes and personal safety.

Until recently, the role of women in safeguarding settlements and cities had not been acknowledged or much researched. However, new research and case studies reveal how, for instance, women in particular can make settlements safer and more inclusive when they participate in the police force and peacekeeping operations.

Many communities have adopted the community policing approach that stresses the importance of involving the community in a practical way so that the police and the public can co-operate to prevent and solve crimes. Through this framework, more women have entered the police force. Women officers have been shown to use less physical force and to better promote co-operation and trust. With a shift in the perception of good policing as being less about physical force and more about preventing violence, women are particularly suited for the position. In Sierra Leone, for instance, increasing the participation of women in the police force has made lawmakers more conscientious of gender violence, and has enabled more women to be informed about their human and legal rights (Ibrahim, 2012[82]).

There is also evidence that women’s engagement in peace processes contributes to their success and durability, thereby contributing to the security and resilience of cities. The Geneva Graduate Institute’s Broadening Participation Project studied over 180 peace agreements across countries and found that women’s involvement in the peace process increased the probability of reaching a peace deal and its duration (O’Reilly, Súilleabháin and Paffenholz, 2015[83]).

The risks of uncontrolled urbanisation, urban sprawl and slums are greater for women, in particular due to gender-based violence. Women are especially exposed to urban living risks in parts of cities which lack safe public spaces (under-lit and under-policed), that are poorly connected to safe public transport, and where crime rates can be high. Poorer women are particularly exposed. In both developed and developing countries women represent the largest share of victims of criminal deaths, assaults, kidnappings and sexual harassment. It is estimated that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives (WHO, 2017[84]). Furthermore, in some countries, sexual harassment and violence against women is not criminalised (OECD, 2019[85]). Victims of sexual assaults are also often afraid to seek justice (WHO, 2012[86]).

While sprawling metropolises cannot simply be razed and rebuilt with a gender lens, a number of measures can be taken to make streets feel safer and to keep women more secure when moving around the city. By making cities safer, women can prioritise more sustainable mobility including public transport, cycling and walking. For example, in India, SafetiPin, founded in 2013, is an application (“app”) that aims to help women stay safe by letting users’ rate streets and areas for safety criteria such as lighting, visibility, people density, gender diversity, security and transportation. It also aggregates safety data, partly provided by its users, for use by local government and planners. SafetiPin now has 51 000 points of data for Delhi alone, and offers users “safest routes”, helping them navigate the city with less risk (SafetiPin, n.d.[87]).

Cities can help champion a place-based and territorial approach to global agendas, and rethink policies for sustainable development from the ground up. They are well-placed to experiment, pilot and replicate ambitious policies that can be tailored to the places where people work and live, and generate complementarities, co-benefits and synergies.

The transition to a low-carbon economy is an opportunity to leverage the potential of cities to advance environmental quality, while fostering inclusive growth. For instance, improvements in air quality (by reducing CO2 emissions from private cars) which is called for under SDG 11 (cities and communities) also helps minimise health cost as targeted by SDG 3 (good health and well-being).

Feminist urban designers claim that men and women experience space differently, and are requesting a gender-responsive approach to urban planning, and to the design and construction of public spaces and amenities (Casanovas et al., 2015[88]). These differences are not only influenced by the socially and culturally constructed productive, reproductive, personal or community gendered roles, but also by other characteristics such as age, income, race etc.

Introducing a more gender-sensitive approach to urban design, may also lead to more sustainable infrastructure. In Wallhagen, Eriksson and Sörqvist (2018), for example, female urban designers participating in a competition in Sweden placed greater importance on environmental aspects than men, even though they felt that their possibility to influence them was rather low. Male urban designers, on the other hand, felt they could influence, even though they rated environmental aspects as of the lowest importance (Wallhagen, Eriksson and Sörqvist, 2018[89]).

A more participatory approach, by including women in all stages of infrastructure planning design and development, could help include perspectives that might not have been otherwise considered. (Ortiz Escalante and Gutiérrez Valdivia, 2015[90]) and (Fleming, 2018[91]) present the case of Col-lectiu Punt 6, an organisation of female architects and urban planners in the city of Barcelona, which over the last decade have included local women in all stages of urban transformation in the city. As a main constraint to a gender-sensitive approach in urban planning they identify the inability of the relevant public authorities to integrate such an approach in their work, and thereby mainstream gender in urban development.

Elsewhere, women’s groups have also been pursuing the goal, sometimes successfully, of empowering local women and turning them into agents of change in their neighbourhoods and cities. This is the case both in Europe, as seen in the case of Berlin (Droste, 2011[92]), and in developing countries. The Gender Inclusive Cities Programme (GIPC), implemented in Petrozavodsk, Russia; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Delhi, India; and Rosario, Argentina, worked with local women to fill in knowledge gaps on why women and girls felt unsafe is some parts of their cities, and were therefore excluded from city life (Women in Cities International, 2012[93]).

Better representation of women in urban design and planning related decision-making and professions could help make cities and settlements more women-sensitive, and, in turn, help optimise infrastructure investments to meet the needs of all the population.

Examples of cities led by female mayors who have embarked in major greening campaigns include Paris and Singapore, involving for instance a large expansion of cycle lanes and a closure of parts of the city to motor vehicles. In the City of Kitakyushu, Japan, a historical example shows how the active role of women’s associations led the city on a new path of sustainable development, due to their heightened apprehension about the health risks caused by the city’s industrial structure (Box 10.1).

More recently, some cities have taken initiatives to develop specific gender-responsive urban plans. For example, the city of Umeå, Sweden has been developing a gender-based landscape (“gendered landscape” approach) since 2009, mapping all changes in the city with a gender and a sustainability lens. The city has been collecting gender-disaggregated data for the past 30 years, and uses the data to develop mobility and infrastructure policies and projects, taking into consideration women’s more sustainable travel patterns, different income levels, and different interests and needs (Kneeshaw and Norman, 2019[94]). This has led to changes in the cities public areas, more lighting in streets that would facilitate access for men, women and children, and changes in the public transport network.

Vienna, as seen above, has been pioneering ‘gender mainstreaming’ for nearly 30 years, and has developed a Manual for Gender Mainstreaming in Urban Planning and Urban Development (Urban Development Vienna, 2013[95]). When developing social or subsidised housing, which constitutes a large part of the city’s total housing market, it uses a four-pronged approach comprising of planning, economic, ecological and socially sustainable pillars. The city’s Housing Fund follows gender-sensitive planning criteria. Wohnprojekt Wien, in the north part of Vienna, is a self-run complex of 40 flats, with low energy consumption, shared mobility options, bike garages, shared rooms and gardens (Kail, 2018[96]). This model is taking into consideration gender aspects, as many common activities are shared between the inhabitants (such as cooking, shopping and occasionally childcare). Each inhabitant contributes 11 hours of unpaid work per month to the community, a model copied from previous gender-responsive development examples in the city, which has proven to facilitate both men and women living in these areas (Littig and Leitner, 2017[97]).

Key to urban planning and design is the methodology, which often tends to take male-centred participant recruitment, language, and hypotheses. There are now several examples of gender-responsive methodologies that reflect women’s mobility patterns and preferences. For instance, Lille, France, has been conducting research on women’s cycling patterns in Lille, the barriers they face and their perceived risks. From the results they understood that to encourage women to cycle more, and hence move in a more sustainable way, there needs to be more protected bicycle infrastructure, traffic-calming, additional street lighting and dedicated bike workshops for women (POLIS, 2021[98])

In Madrid, the public transport operator EMT has made gender inclusiveness a long standing priority for many years. Through the Women STEM Chair (launched in October 2020), EMT has been working with Comillas Pontifical University and Iberdrola to improve women's education, training and professional careers. The partnership seeks to support women in accessing public transport professions, including technical and managerial roles. In addition, the public operator also recently launched the EMT’s Observatory for Women and Safe Transport, which studies the way women use transport and takes active steps to improve women’s safety while using public transport services (POLIS, 2021[99])

Some cities in developing countries are also starting to make the urban environment more women-friendly. For instance, the city of Maputo, Mozambique, has launched a Safe City and Safe Public Spaces Programme as part of the UN Women’s Safe Cities Global Initiative. This initiative, organised together with youth activists, includes improving street lighting as well as rebuilding abandoned public buildings with a gender perspective in mind (UN Women, 2019[100]).

A more systematic collection of disaggregated data at the regional, local and city level, as well as integrating gender-responsive budgeting and gender and environmental impact assessments in infrastructure programmes and projects, could help systematise gender-mainstreaming in infrastructure development.

Green and blue spaces can help to address the impacts of climate change, such as the urban heat island effect and floods. They can also stabilise urban temperatures and reduce energy requirements for the heating and cooling of buildings, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Green spaces can increase noise attenuation and they have proven key in attenuating mental health issues and stress during the COVID-19 pandemic (Pouso et al., 2021[101]). Some cities are also expanding green spaces within residential areas and increasing the availability of sports facilities. Such initiatives can especially benefit adult women who, globally, are almost 32% insufficiently physically active, in comparison to 23% of men (WHO, 2016[102]) (Box 10.2).

There are a number of actions that can be taken to mainstream gender into urban development and transport infrastructure and thereby contribute to make cities safer and cleaner, and more inclusive and sustainable:

  • Collect evidence at the local level on women’s transport and mobility patterns and preferences. Time use surveys linked to users’ trip purpose would allow for a better understanding of women’s travel needs, and would set the ground for more gender-responsive urban development.

  • Develop a whole-of-city initiative on safety and fighting crime and violence, with a specific focus on violence against women.

  • Ensure that transport and land use strategies, policies and projects take into account the needs of women, promote the role of women in developing national urban policies, and incorporate gender mainstreaming into strategies and actions concerning resilience against natural disasters.

  • A city design based on multi-functional neighbourhoods with short travel distances and proximity to work, childcare and schools, health care, shopping and services, along with safe pedestrian and recreation environments (including public parks) and frequent and easily accessible public transport, would help parents combine work and family duties, increasing opportunities for working parents to access the labour market and reduce time lost to commuting. This will also ensure lower air pollution, greater environmental protection and a more sustainable use of resources

  • Promoting corporate practices such as flexible working hours and “teleworking”, that can facilitate women’s access to (and possibly to stay in) full-time work, while reducing carbon footprint and pollution.

  • Promote the development of community networks that promote sharing of responsibilities and gender equality. Local support networks are particularly important in this context and can also bring about change in men’s attitudes to childcare and household chores. A communal setting not only fosters mutual support but also validates changes in behaviour as men see their friends and peers taking up greater family caregiving responsibilities.

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Note

← 1. The United States census defines as White “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa” (https://www.census.gov/topics/population/race/about.html).

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