December`s brutal gang rape and assault with an iron bar that caused fatal internal injury to a 23-year-old student on a public bus in New Delhi has caused nationwide riots in India and sparked an international outcry against the lack of women´s safety in India. But the horrifying incident also highlights a global issue facing women on a daily basis: lack of adequate security for women and girls on public transport. There are thousands of stories, told and untold, of harassment, rape and violence against women on public transport around the world. Even in India, still rocked by protests calling for better security for women, at least two more gang rapes of young women on public buses in the last weeks have been reported.
We demand that public transportation authorities recognize the gender differences and needs of their ridership.
We demand that safe and effective public transportation is made available for women of all socio-economic classes.
We demand that public transportation providers, from government agencies to transportation operators be held accountable for providing safe transport for women.
We demand that public transportation providers, from government agencies to transportation operators be held accountable for acts of violence against women while using public transport.
We demand that public transportation providers include women in the transportation planning process in order to address and meet their needs.
Public transportation is inherently safer in terms of accidents than private transport, but for women, who rely on public transportation more than men and make up more than half of public transportation users on a global level, public transport is less safe in terms of violent assault. Despite the evidence that public transport is not meeting the safety needs of women, women`s security is not a priority for the majority of service providers. According to UCLA`s Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, whose latest study looks at what makes women riders feel unsafe, and thus decide not to ride transit, women have particular needs as transit riders, especially in respect to safety and security. She says her survey of all transit agencies throughout the U.S. with more than 50 public transportation vehicles revealed that "although two-thirds of respondents believed that women travelers have some specific needs, only one-third felt that transit agencies should really do something about it. The most shocking part of the survey was that only 3% of the agencies had any programs for women," said Loukaitou-Sideris.
The first step toward making public transportation safer for women and girls is holding transportation providers accountable for making their systems safer for women: from federal government agencies of all countries, to city planners to bus drivers and city police. For example, the New Delhi bus where the fatal gang rape occurred was running illegally—it had been impounded six times in the past two years. District authoriies repeatedly fined the operator (the main suspect in the gang rape case) 2200 rupees (about $40 USD) and handed the vehicle back each time. Some have blamed the Delhi government´s transportation department for being corrupt and ultimately responsible for the brutal attack, and are calling for the dismissal of the transport minister. In Mexico, women in the city of Juarez have been asking city planners to improve bus stops and service in marginalized areas for years, with no success. Meanwhile, hundreds of women and girls dissappeared from city streets, their bodies found mutilated and dumped in the desert, if they are found at all. Corruption, indefference to women`s needs and lack of concern for public transit riders who often live in marginalized areas or are low-income lays the foundation for a system that works against women. But it doesn´t have to.