Harassment in Public Transport: An Unsolved Problem

Women’s experience in public transportation can be affected negatively because of sexual harassment.

The Woman Post | Valentina Ibarra

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According to Marina Moscoso, Urban Management Specialist and Technical Director of Despacio, the fear of sexual harassment leads to women changing their decisions about their clothes, the type of transportation, and the time of travel. This might affect their autonomy and opportunities, so the strategies implemented during the COVID-19 need to have a special focus on gendered problems.

Because of that, UN Women created a brief to acknowledge the need to ensure safe transportation with a gender focus. Emerging data shows that women all over the world experience this fear: 1. In Los Angeles, a survey showed that men feel safer, especially at night, 2. In Rwanda, 55% of women reported having concerns over traveling at night, 3. In Lima, Perú women are more likely to make decisions based on security rather than speed, and 4. In the COVID-19 emergency, health workers reported violence and discrimination in their committee.

To understand this further, Despacio and WRI Ross Center did research on Bogotá. The results show a disparity in different metrics. For example, the peak travel hours, which can be explained by the role of caregiving -picking kids up or running errands- assigned to women. Furthermore, 85% of the surveyed women reported sexual harassment, with the biggest numbers being in public transports and while cycling. Considering that women are only 21% of the total cyclists in the city, it might be important to see how harassment is affecting their decision to use this method.


After establishing the problem, it is important to start looking for solutions to gender inequality in public transportation. UN women resalted the strategies implemented in different countries, such as free and safe transport to survivors (Papua New Guinea) and pregnant women (Madagascar) during the lockdown, public transport subsidies to women and other vulnerable groups (Netherlands), and provision of rooms for the kids of transport employees considering the closed schools (Japan).

These efforts are remarkable and should be replicated in other countries, with some of the other recommendations made by UN Women: ensure that the measures taken during the pandemic have a gender focus, promote women participation in the creation of strategies, disaggregate data to monitor the response and impact of the solutions, invest in inclusivity mobility options, support groups that promote women cycling and provide incentives to equal distribution of passengers to reduce the peak-time and the possibility of sexual harassment. The list goes on, so there is no excuse to embark on a compromise to reduce the gap.

Evidence shows how important it is to acknowledge the gender problem in public transportation. Because of that, governments should move forward to assure equality in mobilization. Public spaces such as buses and subways should be safe places for women, which means a focus on ending sexual harassment and access inequality given the gender norms of caregiving needs to be implemented.