She Moves Safe – Summary Report


She Moves Safe Summary Report
Funded by CAF- Latin American Development Bank and the FIA Foundation

This past November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women could not have come any sooner. With all the media attention paid to sexual harassment in the workplace, “Orange Day” and acted as a reminder on the prevalence of this issue and the arduous decades-long fight towards this extreme form of discrimination against women; one that goes beyond the private and professional aspects of daily life.

The public space is just another battleground.

A new study in Latin America called “She Moves Safe[1],” aimed at assessing the incidence of sexual harassment, an everyday materialization of gender-based violence, and how this occurrence influences the perception of personal security of women public transport users, reveals that women in the three subject cities of Buenos Aires, Quito, and Santiago, are continuously concerned with their personal safety while moving around the city.

Due to long-standing gender norms that encapsulate women to private life, there are significant differences in the mobility patterns and travel behaviors between men and women. With more women joining the formal and informal labor market and the role of women become two-fold: caregivers and breadwinners, women’s mobility becomes more complex. Women make shorter, multi-purpose trips (not just from home to work), usually accompanied by small children, the elderly or individuals with limited mobility. The socially constructed notion that a women´s principal role in society is that of homecare, constraints a woman’s range of option when choosing how and when to travel. In Latin America, more than half of the trips that women make are in public transport, closely followed by walking. Women are also more likely to live below poverty line than men, limiting the resources available to them for mobility purposes.

Even though these gender-based characterizations are well documented, women’s needs are still infrequently taken into consideration in city planning processes, especially in public transport.

She Moves Safe focuses on personal safety, however, there are many other mobility barriers for women and other vulnerable groups to access the city and its opportunities, such as those related to service operation, system and vehicle infrastructure and design, and most importantly affordability.

Women at bus stop – Comuna El Bosque, Santiago de Chile. Photo credit: Ella Se Mueve Segura


The study´s findings show that 3 out of 4 women respondents felt insecure while using public transport, compared to approximately 1 out of 2 men. The part of the trip in which women feel more unsafe are walking to and from a bus or train stop and inside the bus or metro. The perception of unsafety becomes worst if these are combined with overcrowded buses or metro cars, particularly with men, and if traveling alone and at night or without daylight.

When considering the actual occurrence of harassment, the most cited type was verbal or visual, followed by physical: groping or touching. Just in Santiago, 1 out of 2 transport male and female users have experienced verbal harassment and 1 out 5 physical harassment. In Buenos Aires, 23% of users experienced at least one type of harassment, however, out these, 7 out 10 were women. This proves how women’s personal security is more frequently compromised when using public transport.

Woman, Commuter Rail in Buenos Aires. Photo credit: Sebastian Anapolsky


As many women have no choice but to travel in public transport, they have adapted to these circumstances by changing their traveling behavior. Women change their routes, schedules, and sometimes even avoid making trips if these are seen as unsafe. But the fear of sexual harassment does not only include travel-related changes like switching transport modes or travel schedule, but mentally and emotional changes as well. In Buenos Aires, women from the study claim that they are in a constant state of alert, examining thoroughly their surroundings and other passengers. If they anticipate danger, they get off the bus or switch metro cars.

Woman with child, Metro in Buenos Aires. Photo credit: Ella Se Mueve Segura


More concerning were the discussions around how women pass on these fears to their children, particularly to their daughters. In a time where sustainable cities and transport are buzzwords in the development international agenda, public transport in Latin America faces the risk of losing its main users, women and girls, to private vehicles. In Santiago, 30% of women would prefer to switch to cars if they could.

Therefore, besides the obvious gender equality and rights-based concerns of these and other related findings for women, what are the implications for city development and growth? Why should city planners, and not just women’s organizations and ministries, care?

The mainstreaming of gender equality in public policy is a wicked problem, there is not one solution, nor one responsible for that solution. Nonetheless, cities can start the path to inclusive growth with some basics on the ground.

  • Move beyond the concept of mobility as only movement. Cresswell explains that mobility without considering the social constructs that shapes it, is mere movement or “mobility abstracted from the contexts of power”[2]. Gender roles are explained a great deal by power dynamics, and violence is the most common expression of this interaction. Collect and analyze gender data for policy making. Once that introspective exercise is done, cities need evidence to understand when and where in the city those power dynamics are at play in order to identify the appropriate public policy. For this, it is vital to collect gender data, which is data disaggregated by sex but also data that is primarily relevant to women and girls. Origin-Destination surveys in the transport sector are starting to gather sex-disagreed data but still fail to ask questions pertinent to the mobility of different groups (men, women, children, and the elderly) and their intersections with income, race, ethnicity and disability. Data matters, and it is only valid when it is also inclusive.
  • Promote women participation in city and transport planning. “Those who plan our transport systems are neither women nor they use public transport.” This is a rewording of Quito city official when explaining why transport does not cater to women’s needs, particularly when it comes to safety concerns. It clearly exemplifies that women are not only sub represented in politics, but also in the decision making spheres related to public space use and design.
  • Systematic use of participatory methods in city planning. Participatory methods are nothing new. David Harvey explains that city inhabitants should have a voice in how public space is defined and designed, but more importantly, Harvey argues that “the question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from that of what kind of social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyles, technologies and aesthetic values we desire.”[3] Thus, even as community engagement and participatory planning are making a comeback, these need to become standard practice.
  • Look for allies: feminists and rights-based movements. In recent years, the feminist cry has been heard all around Latin America. Collective movements such as Ni Una Menos have produced a growing widespread rejection to the naturalization of gender-based violence in the private and public space. In a country like Argentina, where a woman gets killed every 30 hours and 26% of those femicides occur in the public space, the movement signifies justice. According to participants of the Buenos Aires focus groups, the effect of Ni Una Menos can be categorized as a “before and after.” Young women and girls claim to feel more empowered and knowledgeable about their rights. They feel that “now” legislation protects them, and society at large is more aware of their rights. This is an unprecedented opportunity for city planners to promote a sense of co-responsibility in tackling gender inequality and discrimination in the cities. Sexual harassment and other types of gender-based violence cannot be solved by one actor. Change happens when good public policy translates in good implementation and this can only occur with widespread approval from the community of stakeholders.

To move safely around our cities is our basic human right. Along with the right to life, liberty, security, and freedom of opinion as well as a life free from violence. In the search for the attainment of inclusive growth, cities should strive to plan on the basis of their most important strength: the diversity of its constituents. Gender, age, class, race, ethnicity, and disability define how individuals behave, interact with the environment, and how she ultimately experiences the city. As seen here, safety is one of the precondition to achieving not only equality and empowerment for women and girls but sustainable, inclusive cities for all.


[1] The study was co-founded by CAF- Latin American Development Bank and the FIA Foundation and its objective was to understand how this perception ultimately affects how women move around the city and furthermore if it constitutes a barrier to economic and social development. Ella Se Mueve Segura used a mixed methods approach by using interception surveys, focus groups, and in-depth interviews to find out if indeed women move safely around Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, and Quito.

[2] Tim Cresswell “On the Move Mobility in the Modern Western World” 2006.

[3] Harvey, D. (2003), The right to the city. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 27: 939–941. doi:10.1111/j.0309-1317.2003.00492.x

She Moves Safe – Summary Report

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