Improving Public Transport Services for Women: A Story from Cairo

UNHABITAT's picture
By Grace Thama-ini on 08/03/2018

Cairo, 2 August 2018–Due to their specific needs and responsibilities such as caring for children, the elderly or people with disabilities, going to work, as well running the household, women generally tend to have different travel patterns than men. Many are often subject to sexual harassment on public transport or encounter barriers such as poorly lit streets and bad quality footpaths, which inhibit their access to public transport. These barriers may also limit access to education and employment opportunities, which in turn entrenches the weak position of women in society and acts as a brake on the economic growth prospects of countries. 

Supported by the Government of Egypt and UN Women, UN-Habitat in collaboration with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) is implementing a project that seeks to introduce a modern public transport system (Bus Rapid Transit) in Cairo. In a unique approach, this project aims at making public transport more responsive to the needs of women.

Several Focus Group discussions and an online survey in which 2000 women participated revealed the difficulties that women experience in using public transport which include lack of priority seating, harassment, poor security, and poor quality of footpaths and bus-stops. These discussions also brought out the inadequate perception of bus crews of the problems women face; exemplified by a remark of one bus driver: “Women don’t have any problem on buses, if they ever do, male passengers will intervene and protect the victim from any harassment.” This however, differed greatly from the perception of women and girls.   The findings from these participatory processes provided an insight into an otherwise under-researched area, and UN- Habitat is currently in discussions with the National Council of Women for publishing these findings to help inform mobility planning and design in Egypt.

The operational plans, now under preparation for the BRT services, will explicitly take into consideration the issues raised by women through these consultations. These plans will form the basis of preparing Terms of Reference for bus operational contracts to be let by the public authorities and may require for example: buses to have priority and segregated seating for women, a good proportion of bus crews (drivers and conductors) comprised of women; bus interiors to be under the surveillance of the police and operators through cameras and Wi-Fi. In addition, public authorities, in collaboration with NGOs, are expected to launch advocacy and awareness campaigns which encourage behavioral change in the travelling public as well as undertake infrastructure improvements-such as better street lighting and improved footpaths.

By 2020, contracts for Bus Operations, incorporating features that make travel for women and other vulnerable groups safer and more comfortable, are expected to be realised. In addition, public advocacy and awareness campaigns are also expected to be well underway. In the same year, infrastructure improvements are also expected to be taken up.  

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