Bogotá has the world’s most dangerous transport system for women. A 2015 poll of female commuters revealed that women in Colombia’s capital felt unsafe, particularly at night, and complained of regular harassment and groping when travelling.
Bogotá relies on a bus service, TransMilenio, which is frequently overcrowded, resulting in delays and cramped journeys. Six commuters share every square metre; in Sweden, just two share the same amount of space. In 2004 and 2008 there were protests and strikes by passengers. In 2012, rioters destroyed five bus stations due to anger over overcrowding and high fares.
When it comes to public transport, negative reviews are all city authorities have to work with when trying to understand the way their city works for women. Transport systems such as Bogota’s affect the way women traverse their cities. Knowing that you are likely to be crammed into a crowded bus or carriage, or get dropped off at an unlit bus stop, makes women everywhere divert the routes they travel, and reconsider travelling at all.
“When we went into this, we knew intuitively that gender played a role in the way that people move”
“What we don’t measure, we don’t work on. We haven’t measured women,” said Melinda Gates in an interview with Bloomberg in February 2017. While there isn’t enough information on just what effect our current transport systems have on the way women move around cities, the lack of data differentiated by gender is a general problem. The Gates Foundation has pledged $80 million over three years to eradicate the “gender data gap”.
Santiago’s gender data laboratory
Now, Santiago, Chile will test the feasibility of collecting female-specific transport data. The city will work with a data collaborative made up of GovLab, UNICEF, Universidad del Desarrollo/Telefónica R&D Center, ISI Foundation, and DigitalGlobe to use mobile phone data and high-definition satellite imagery to map the journeys of the city’s female residents.
As in Colombia, sexual harassment is prevalent when women traverse public places in Chile: five out of ten women reported sexual harassment on the street in 2015. Over 2018, the project team will collect and analyse data in Santiago to figure out how women and girls use the city, and in which ways they differ from men.
“What we don’t measure, we don’t work on. We haven’t measured women”
“When we went into this, we knew intuitively that gender played a role in the way that people move,” said Natalia Adler, a policy manager for UNICEF and one of the project’s leaders. “If I ask women, ‘Would you walk in this street if it’s too dark or too isolated? If you see a bunch of construction workers down the street, would you cross the road?’ We all know that that happens. Until now we haven’t had the data to confirm that.”
The project team will use aggregated and anonymised mobile phone call data provided by the network provider Telefónica to understand how women and girls in Santiago travel through the city. This will be combined with official government data on population, transport, crime, and socioeconomic indicators and satellite imagery data from DigitalGlobe, in order to better understand if gender influences mobility patterns and how transport options can be made more inclusive.
“The choice of Santiago is partly due to the connection with the mobile connection provider,” said Daniela Paolotti, a data scientist at the ISI Foundation, a global research lab focusing on statistics and data science. “It’s also because Santiago is a city which has developed a lot in recent years. It has a very good coverage of public transport, but also it has very good coverage of public census data.”
“The places where you have the possibility to disaggregate by gender aren’t very many, and anytime there is that possibility to do it, people will do it,” said Paolotti. “It’s definitely a field in which there are many, many questions. The lack of data is just now starting to be taken into account.”
Transforming data into real change
The project won $100,000 in funding from Data 2x in September, an organisation devoted to closing the gender data gap and finding new ways to collect gender-specific data.The collaborative will collect and analyse data until the end of 2018, and provide policy recommendations to authorities in Santiago.
“We’re not just looking at it from a research perspective alone, that’s why we have to bring in government officials,” said Adler. “Especially in this case, we’ll be trying to target municipal officials and a lot of people from transportation institutions, so that we can try to link whatever insights that come from this research to things that they’ll benefit from.”
Finding links to people in power has been difficult up until now. National elections are currently underway in Chile, and finding the opportunity to connect with people in a busy and uncertain situation has been difficult.
“If we can show the value of this kind of analysis for one city like Santiago, we might have the chance to extend the project to other cities”
“We want to make sure that we put together some kind of advisory board, especially from government, to accompany the data analysis that we are doing so that it can be informed and also inform the process and response itself,” said Adler. “I don’t think the advocacy will be that hard, because there are a lot of savings that can come out of this research.”
Building a gender data movement
By engaging multiple different groups, public and private, around one project, the team has succeeded in pooling the data they need to see how women use the city – and the reasons behind these patterns. Perhaps most importantly, they are showing other governments that such analysis is possible.
“If we can show the value of this kind of analysis for one city like Santiago, we might have the chance to extend the project to other cities,” said Michele Tizzoni of the ISI Foundation.
Painting an accurate picture of the ways in which women and girls move across cities is essential to improving conditions in urban areas across the world, not just in South America. For schemes to expand, and policies to be built, there has to be evidence that such an approach can work.
(Picture credit: Flickr/Francisco Orsorio)