Driving Gender in India’s Public Transport Policy

Riya wakes before dawn. She has to if she wants to make it to work on time from her small home on the outskirts of the city. She prepares breakfast and gets her children up and dressed. She leaves for work after taking a detour to drop her children off at school.

From there Riya starts her long trek to catch the bus. She has to arrive early since public transport is so unreliable. There are no footpaths, so Riya dodges the traffic on the busy road. So far she has been lucky, with only a few near misses and a bump from a cyclist.

Because of her poor diet Riya tires easily from the long walk. Fatigued, she finally reaches the bus stop. She waits and waits. When it finally arrives, Riya boards the crowded bus for a trip she can barely afford. This is the part of the journey she fears most. Sometimes men make lewd comments. A few have grabbed her.

Riya has heard about other young women who took the bus but never made it home. Riya must undertake the same gruelling journey again after a long day of work. The sun now set, she nervously walks the narrow unlit alleyways of the slum to reach home. It’s not safe for a young woman here after dark. Relieved and exhausted, she arrives. She prepares dinner, puts her children to sleep and goes to bed. She will be up again in a few hours to begin another day. The challenges faced by the fictional character of Riya represent an amalgamation of the issues confronting many poor Indian women who are forced undertake arduous, lengthy and often unsafe travel.

With the support of the German Government’s International Climate Initiative, in 2010 UNEP launched the Promoting Low Carbon Transport in India initiative, which developed a network of expertise on transport planning, safety, social inclusion, air pollution and climate change. The network was responsible for advising the project’s three pilot cities1 and helped the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) mainstream climate change, social inclusivity and environmental issues in urban transport policy development.

One of the local partners, CEPT University, was brought in to ensure that low-carbon transport plans included key gender considerations. Half of the project’s core team were women, while the steering committee included a local NGO, Self Employed Women Association (SEWA), which works for the rights of poor and working women.

The initiative undertook a yearlong, in-depth study of transport in three pilot cities.2 The research sought to understand how the everyday realities of men and women differ when navigating public space and how gendersensitive transport policy can ensure that the needs of both men and women are addressed. The study found that women, particularly poor women, face the worst mobility situation. Not only do they have limited money, they also lack time, energy and safety.

Based on the study’s success, UNEP and its project partners helped revise MoUD’s Comprehensive Mobility Planning (CMP) toolkit, the core guide for transport planning in Indian cities. The aim was to ensure that the document considered climate change, social inclusivity (including gender) and environmental issues. Cities throughout India have to conduct CMPs to access MoUD funds for sustainable, low-carbon urban transport projects.3

The work of UNEP and its partners illustrates that the availability of affordable and safe transport would encourage women and members of other socially disadvantaged groups to make more use of public transport. This would promote gender equity, create a more sustainable transport system, and make it possible for women like Riya to benefit more fully from life’s opportunities.4

1 The three pilot cities were Rajkot, Visakhapatnam and Udaipur.
2 Key Implementing Partner: UNEP DTU Partnership; Local partners: the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi and CEPT University, Ahmedabad.
3 Ministry of Urban Development, ‘Toolkit for Comprehensive Mobility Plan (CMP) Revised’, 2014, Available at: http://www.unep.org/transport/lowcarbon/PDFs/CMPToolkit_ revised.pdf
4 The full report, ‘Gender Sensitive Transport Planning for Cities in India’, available at: http://www.unep.org/transport/lowcarbon/PDFs/genderSensitiveTransportPlanning.pdf