Walking and cycling charity Sustrans Scotland has highlighted the need for more equal representation of women in transport planning and delivery in Scotland following the release of a new report on gender and active travel by the charity.

Released just three days before International Women’s Day, the report concludes that better representation of women in transport policy, practice and planning would help address the low numbers of women travelling actively across Scotland.

The, ‘Are We Nearly There Yet?’ report, looked at the travel habits and choices of nearly 2,000 women in Glasgow and combined the findings with a literature review of research on women’s mobility patterns across Scotland, the UK and Europe.

It found that women’s journeys around cities were typically shorter than men’s, and more likely to involve ‘trip-chaining’ (multi-stop journeys) which tended to balance child care, work and other responsibilities. Women’s trips also used a number of different modes of transport.

And, whilst women were motivated to travel actively for physical and mental health reasons, worries about their personal safety, convenience (particularly when taking multi-stop trips) and appearance were all barriers which stopped them from choosing more active ways of getting around more often.

The report also found that there was a lack of evidence to show how women participated in creating transport policy and planning in the UK. Currently, transport has the lowest percentage representation of women in senior posts within the public sector in Scotland with women representing only 6.25% heads of transport bodies. 

Sustrans Scotland’s Evaluation Manager, Suzanne Motherwell, who led the research, said: “Our research has shown that there are a number of women-specific barriers such as lack of time, complex schedules and fears of personal safety, which stop them from travelling actively more often.

“If we are to get more people walking and cycling it is essential that we address the inequalities that exist between men and women in transport – at every level – from users right through to planning and policy making.

“By designing and building infrastructure that caters for women’s needs, as well as men’s, then we can help ensure the gap between the levels of women and men cycling is closed, and importantly, improve the overall everyday cycling levels in our cities and towns.”

The research has been welcomed by Engender, Scotland’s feminist organisation.  Engender has done wide-reaching research on women’s representation in decision making and power.  The organisation has also highlighted issues experienced by women in public spaces and on public transport as part of their recently-published ‘Gender Matters Roadmap’.  

Emma Ritch, Executive Director of Engender, said: “It is good to see Sustrans highlighting the links between transport policy and women’s equality, and we hope to see women’s different experience of travel integrated into all of their future work.

“Scotland’s travel systems are not designed around the needs of women, who tend to make shorter and more frequent journeys and are more concerned about their personal safety.

“This obliviousness is perhaps unsurprising given that women are massively underrepresented in transport bodies: only 6.25% of their chief officers are women. Making active travel work for women makes it work better for all.”

Case study

Since moving to Glasgow four years ago, Rebecka Bergh has mostly travelled round the city by bike, as she feels it is a quicker, cheaper and more convenient option for her than walking or taking public transport.

The 25 year old student, from Sweden, says that bikes were the default mode of transport when growing up. However, Rebecka doesn’t see herself as being a confident cyclist often feels intimidated by other traffic on the city roads.

She also admits that travelling around by bike limits the kind of clothes she could wear each day, but said she tried not to let her appearance deter her from cycling each day. “I know that appearance and the way you look is a big issue for some women and from time to time it does bother me.

“It means that I don’t tend to wear skirts or dresses, and if it’s raining for example, I will choose not to wear makeup. However I don’t tend to cycle particularly fast and I have a cap that I wear to protect my hair and eye make-up, so I don’t feel too messy when I arrive at university.”

Rebecka says that her lack of confidence when on her bike is her biggest issue when travelling around Glasgow. “Drivers don’t tend to think about what it is like for people on bikes going about the city and I’m not very good at being assertive when I’m on my bike on the road. I am not always confident that I know if I am allowed in certain spaces,” she said.

“So when I feel that cars are getting too close or that they are getting impatient because I am cycling slowly, I don’t have the confidence to mark my space and will often find myself cycling very close to the pavement instead of keeping my distance from it which can be dangerous.

“I know if I was more assertive on my bike and cycled faster they would respect my space, but then that means that I am more likely to end up hot and bothered when I arrive at my destination.

“Having cycle routes and networks designed with women in mind would make a huge difference to my journey every day. To have paths which are safer and less intimidating to use would make the world of difference and I hope it would encourage more women to travel by bike when possible.”


A full copy of ‘Are We Nearly There Yet? Exploring Gender and Active Travel’ can be downloaded here: https://www.sustrans.org.uk/sites/default/files/file_content_type/exploring_gender_and_activetravel_paper_final.pdf

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