Freedom to move: women’s experience of urban public transport in Bangladesh, Brazil and Nigeria, and how lost tax revenues can pay to improve it

Freedom to move: women’s experience of urban public transport in Bangladesh, Brazil and Nigeria, and how lost tax revenues can pay to improve it

Public transport is the lifeblood of cities, used by millions as the most efficient way of moving people. However, half the population are marginalised from these transport systems as they often fail to accommodate the needs of women and girls, whose freedoms are curtailed by unsafe, inadequate, and inaccessible urban public transport (UPT). This report by ActionAid looks at the quality of UPT across three cities: Dhaka, in Bangladesh, Abuja in Nigeria, and Sao Paulo in Brazil. Bus provision in particular was studied, as the most readily comparable UPT in each city, and as an area in which the governments of all three cities are failing to provide adequate services to women and girls.

Following an executive summary, the report discusses in detail the importance and nature of gender responsive public services. Five key barriers to gender responsive transport are then discussed in detail: inappropriate design of UPT; unsafe UPT leading to sexual violence; unaffordable transport and multiple tickets; unreliable, inadequate and poor quality transport vehicles; and weak or absent legal and policy frameworks on the delivery of gender responsive UPT. These barriers are then described using the examples of stories of women themselves, from each of the three cities. One sad tale tells of Farima, who had to commute on barely affordable buses into Abuja every day for work. Farima was pregnant, and the crowded, jostling conditions caused her to begin bleeding, whereupon she went to the hospital and was placed on rest for four days. Farima was fired from her employment, and now helps raise her children on her husband’s income alone.

The report concludes that action is required in three core areas: availability, accessibility, and safety. With these goals in mind, a number of specific recommendations are made, including:

  • Ensuring public transport is publicly delivered: public control of UPT ensures that regulations, subsidies, schedules, routes, pricing, and design can be most centred on public needs in a gender-sensitive manner, and prevent marginalised groups being isolated from UPT. 
  • Ensuring public transport is participatory, accountable, and effectively managed: women must meaningfully participate in the design of cities and UPT, and in reviewing legislation and budgeting. Staff must agree to gender sensitive standards, with affirmative action programmes to include women among UPT staff.
  • Ensuring public transport is publically funded through progressive taxation: this will require governments to: review and revise tax treaties; grant tax incentives to ensure corporate transparency and accountability; stop undercutting each other through tax reductions for multinationals; and support the creation of an international body for tax cooperation at the United Nations.
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