Decoding women’s mobility experiences in emerging markets

4 min readMar 8, 2022

By Louise Ribet, Partnerships Lead at WhereIsMyTransport

The connection between urban public transport and gender inequality is not new, but it is now drawing increased global attention from governments, think tanks, research institutes, and advocacy groups.

There is no country in the world that does not experience unequal gendered dynamics around public transport. From New York to Nairobi, there’s a good chance that women of all ages will experience a form of harassment on public transport, if not regularly, at some point in their life. Most women experience safety and accessibility concerns over public transport. They make calculations daily on how best to reach their final destination: What will be the safest way to get to the bus stop? Will I be able to take my child with me? Can I walk home on my own when it is dark out?

Women waiting for public transport in Johannesburg, South Africa

Despite the increasing numbers of women relying on public transport, these questions and challenges are rarely integrated into the design, planning, and operation of existing systems. This is largely due to the lack of readily available and openly accessible data on the issue.

In emerging-market cities, where general mobility information is already hard to come by, expecting to have access to gender-disaggregated data on public transport dynamics may seem like asking for the moon. And yet, in Africa, local NGOs, pioneering researchers, and civil society groups like the Flone Initiative are leading the charge in shedding light on the gendered dynamics of public transport.

“When travelling as a woman, using public transport is a truly audacious task. The lack of safety is largely due to its operative systems being gender blind. This places a risk on women’s mobility and results in them, and other vulnerable groups such as children, being subjected to daily petty crime, violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault whilst commuting.”

Zanele Mabaso, Gender and Policy Advisor

At WhereIsMyTransport, in partnership with the Transforming Urban Mobility Initiative (TUMI), we’ve launched a pioneering data collection project seeking to decode women’s mobility experience across three African cities: Nairobi, Lagos, and Gauteng. This involves piloting a novel and adaptive methodology that can be replicated across African cities and scaled to other regions. The data collected will feed into the TUMI Mobility Hub, an initiative that aims to provide access to quantitative and qualitative mobility data for all cities across the globe and bridge the gender data gap.

“TUMI is supporting cities around the world to build this accurate database by developing replicable methodologies for gender-sensitive mobility data collection, together with partners such as WhereIsMyTransport. Creating a gender-sensitive database on mobility needs will enable African cities to mainstream a new type of evidence in decision-making and to create more inclusive urban hubs.”

Leonie Guskowski, GIZ

Building on previous data collection efforts and research learnings from these three cities, our comparative methodology will employ experiential and ethnographic research to unearth deeper insights on the motivations and decision-making of women using public transport. Through this user-centric approach, we sharpen the focus on not just what happens inside public transport modes, but also on the wider experiences of women’s journeys, from the first to the last mile.

“Listening to the lived experience of women using public transport is to hear stories of connection and disconnection. It connects women to opportunities and services that lift them up and move them forward, while, at the same time, places them in potential danger. In this research, we hope to share the stories for all of these women and the activists, governments and private sector that would like to build a public transport system that travels with them.”

Chantal Lailvaux, Head of Research,WhereIsMyTransport

Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit in Johannesburg, South Africa

It is clear too that there is not just one woman commuter, and that women’s mobility patterns should not be presented in blanket terms. Our research will take a comparative view of women commuters who rely on different travel modes and occupy different social and economic positions in their societies, from students, working professionals, stay-at-home mothers, to informal traders.

“We seek to understand what shared challenges an informal woman hawker and a professional working woman have when using public transport, and how these challenges deviate. Zooming in to their ecosystem and lived experience will help us to decode particular qualitative details that shape greater quantitative patterns.”

Tam Lunt, Senior Researcher, WhereIsMyTransport

With more attention now being paid to the topic of public transport and gender inclusivity, we hope that more gender-sensitive data collection efforts will continue and that TUMI’s Mobility Hub will make it easier to access, visualise, and interpret this sort of data. The challenges that women face on public transport can be difficult to unpack but are subjects we should not shy away from. At WhereIsMyTransport, we believe researching and understanding the gendered experience of public transport is critical, and will continue to unearth data insights on the topic.




Stories about data, mobility, and the Majority World from the WhereIsMyTransport team.