Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

A Gendered View of Mobility and Transport: Next Steps and Future Directions

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

A Gendered View of Mobility and Transport: Next Steps and Future Directions

Article excerpt

Physical mobility - the ability to move from one place to another smoothly, quickly and without impediment - has been the epitome of modernity. Mobility has been greatly valued in a modern society constantly on the move (Urry, 2000); it has been often associated with privilege, power and freedom. Mobility often enhances accessibility - the ability to access and take advantage of physical amenities (e.g. parks, super markets, schools) and economic opportunities (e.g. jobs). For this reason, physical mobility is often linked to opportunities for achievement and enjoyment of a better life and more material resources (Wachs, 2009). At the same time, the way that transport is designed and delivered impacts mobility patterns.

However, both historically and at present, social groups have not all enjoyed equal levels of mobility. Women, in particular, have often faced important mobility hurdles, lessening their accessibility to city resources and opportunities. Feminist scholars agree that 'how people move (where, how fast, how often) is demonstrably gendered and continues to reproduce gendered power hierarchies' (Cresswell and Uteng, 2008, 2). Indeed, gender distinctions in travel patterns hold true for both the Global North and the Global South (Law, 1999; Tanzarn, 2008).

This paper argues that women's mobility in cities is challenged by physical, economic, cultural and psychological constraints, but also inadequate transportation policies that often neglect or disregard women's needs. Women have distinct mobility needs and travel patterns, while, at the same time, important differences exist among women, based on socio-demographic characteristics and geographic contexts. Such differences and nuances are not always understood and much less addressed by policy makers.

The paper will first set its arguments within their larger theoretical context of feminist theory. It will follow with an overview of historic and contemporary challenges to women's mobility in the Global North and Global South. It will draw from the literature to examine why travel patterns are characterised as 'gendered' and examine how transport needs vary among different women, due to factors such as age, class, race/ethnicity and geographic context. Lastly, it will assess the extent to which policy and practice in the US, Canada and Europe have responded to women's needs and concerns and outline next steps and future directions in research, design, transport policy and technology.

Gender, mobility and transport: the feminist perspective

Over the last three decades, feminist theorists have problematised the triad of gender, mobility and transport, emphasising that they intersect and influence one another in deep and complex ways (Cresswell and Uteng, 2008). Their interest stems from the understanding that one's ability to move in the city without obstruction denotes freedom (Hanson, 2010).1 In contrast, restriction of movement (because of rules, social norms or lack of resources) signifies exclusion, oppression and subordination for those excluded. Women have been more affected than men by restrictions to their mobility, and this control over women's movement and presence in public spaces reflects and reinforces patterns of inequality between genders (Massey, 1994), what Valentine (1992, 24) calls 'spatial expressions of patriarchy'. As argued by Massey (1994, 177), 'spaces and places are not only themselves gendered but, in their being so, also reflect and affect the ways in which gender is understood. The limitation of women's mobility in both identity and space has been in some cultural contexts a crucial means of subordination.'

Control over mobility can be explicit, implicit or indirect. For example, religious rules or cultural norms that explicitly forbid women to drive vehicles or ride transit unescorted diminish their mobility and tie them to their homes. Societal perceptions depicting women as vulnerable and in need of protection implicitly reduce their freedom to be present in public spaces during certain times (McDowell, 1999). …

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