Feminist Mobility Solutions Can Drive a More Just Transportation System

It’s more important than ever that equity is centered in our conversations about what our transport systems need to look like. 

63 percent of NYC riders report sexual harassment, with 99 percent of those reporting being women. (Pixabay / Creative Commons)

When someone mentions “transportation systems,” what probably comes to mind are busy cities, honking cars, crowded buses and delayed subways. But really, transportation is much more—it is the way to get from one place to another, and this takes so many forms. 

If you commuted to work today, how did you get there? If now or before the pandemic, your kids who went to school or to child care, how did they get there? How did you get to places that may be further, like health care you may need? Did you walk or bike or take a bus or several buses? How long did it take? Who did you encounter, and did they make you feel safe or unsafe? Did you have clean air to breathe on the way, and were your access needs met to actually use whatever transportation method that was? Were the folks who help support the running of those systems well paid and working in healthy environments, too?

These are all transportation questions, and feminist solutions are striving to think about their answers in the most just and inclusive ways. 

Last month, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO)—a global advocacy organization working towards gender and climate justice—released a landmark report on the intersections of gender, climate change and transportation, with recommendations for building a more just and feminist mobility system for all.

We know that we cannot confront the climate crisis without transforming how we all move through the world. We know that right now, the transportation sector accounts for almost one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and is steeped with environmental injustices and environmental racism that harms Black, Indigenous and other individuals of color and low income communities.

WEDO published this new report with the deep conviction that we all have the right to move safely and freely through the world. Across the varied landscape of transportation infrastructure and mobility systems in the United States, this remains far from the reality. Across lines of race, class and gender, transportation has historically served to entrench white supremacy, patriarchy and deepening wealth inequality.

But we also know that an intersectional feminist analysis, that shows us how to confront and addresses how systems of oppression influence and structure our mobility policies, can make it possible for transportation to take on new forms. In other words, we do believe that transportation can be a catalyst for transformation.

This report includes an analysis of the intersection of gender, climate and transport, provides recommendations for policymakers and offers case studies of lessons learned from feminist and grassroots climate and transportation groups driving forward solutions. Gender considerations in transportation planning such as addressing gender-based harassment and violence on public transit, the need to make structural changes to account for care workers’ differing transit schedules (who are disproportionately women) and gendered differences in car ownership are just some of the topics covered in the gender analysis. 

A few sample takeaways included in the analysis of this intersection:

  • 63 percent of NYC riders report sexual harassment, with 99 percent of those reporting being women.
  • 55 percent of public transit riders are women.
  • Most mass transit prohibits open strollers, a challenge for riders who are also caregivers.
  • Transit schedules don’t account for care workers’ needs, who do not typically follow peak work hours’ schedules.

In the months preceding this moment of federal infrastructure policy negotiations, we’ve seen more conversation than ever before about building green and clean infrastructure to be resilient in the face of the climate crisis. However, the current articulation of money in the bipartisan infrastructure package is a big blow to hopes of injecting big, bold investments into our renewable energy and transportation systems—much of the investment and ambition in clean energy and transportation has been stripped.

It’s more important than ever, especially as policymakers move into reconciliation conversations and our movements strategize around our next demands, that equity is centered in our conversations about what our transport systems need to look like. 

The report makes the case that by realizing the potential for intentional and equitable investment that prioritizes universal access and affordability for all, takes into account the differentiated needs of users it has historically marginalized and learns lessons from feminist transportation advocates, U.S. mobility infrastructure can actually serve as a critical pathway to achieving racial, economic and gender justice. 

WEDO also hosted a launch webinar with a panel of feminist transportation activists and advocates, including Dr. Regan Patterson, author of the report, environmental justice consultant and Transportation Equity Research Fellow at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Logan Dreher, Clean Mobility Partnerships Coordinator, GRID Alternatives; Haleema Bharoocha, Senior Advocacy Manager, from Alliance for Girls; and Allie Perez, Communications Committee Co-Chair, National Taskforce on Tradeswomen’s Issues.

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Mara Dolan (she/her) works on climate and gender justice research and advocacy at the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, focusing on policy change envisioned by the Feminist Agenda for a Green New Deal. As a journalist, her work focuses on climate justice and women’s rights, and has been published in The Nation, Teen Vogue, Bitch Media and other outlets. She is currently based out of Rhode Island but calls central Illinois home.