Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Year of the Woman in Transport – Part II
“Don't treat women equally”.

How to move from this fine sounding idea to concrete operational reality? For starters each of us here can take it upon ourselves as an individual commitment first to ponder and then to try to ensure full and fair representation of women in every transportation planning and decision forum we are involved in (starting with World Streets itself). But we cannot afford to stop there.

That picture of course is a photo-montage showing Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses, two 20th century icons with highly contrasting attitudes toward transport in and around cities. (Source of photo being sought.)
One great advantage of taking the full year of 2010 to grapple with these issues is that by joining forces we will have the time and brainpower to be wiser about this than can be a single author writing on a single day.

What about just a bit of parity?

Surface parity, while a start, is unlikely to be sufficient.

We can observe that all too often women who do get into key roles very rapidly begin behaving like or reflecting the behavior and values of men. Examples would be very dangerous ... but try to think of women in such powerful positions who HAVE acted differently to the males in previous or similar positions of influence and power.

It’s just that the worldviews and values of our sector at the top are in general, very male! And this is precisely what we need to change to realize our very different future.

<-- Have you responded to the reader poll on this yet?
Please do. It's just over to your left.

Broaden the skills base of the deciders

The forced, high-priority network expansion that full gender parity requires can open up another priority need that also requires significant rectification. Specifically it can help us to increase greatly the range of backgrounds and skills we bring into the various decision fora. This therefore gives us a golden opportunity to rectify some of the debilitating historical inadequacies in the sector that have led to its underperformance in so many areas.

Of course, as we look to bring in more women we need of course to bring in more expertise in the entrenched professional skills such as transport planning, traffic management, engineering, financial planning, technical modeling and the usual array of “hard skills” which have the front stage in the sector. But that is not enough.

But to get the job done right we also need greatly enhanced competence in such areas as environment, climate, land use, public health, cities, rural areas, community relations, demographics, local government, social services , behavioral psychology, education, childcare, job creation, poverty reduction, communications and all those other key areas of our daily lives which thus far have not received the necessary attention in the transport discussions and decision-making process. And in these, we need both women and men to enhance our understanding of these mission-critical issues and to inform policy and practice in the sector.


Now, is it that I really believe that women are for some reason better, smarter or more noble than we Y chromosome-encumbered males? That’s not the point. Rather it is my experience that women often have a different view of the world in many respects. It is this differentness that we need to bring in and profit from.

However to give this full scope we need to go beyond the usual token representation. We need their strength. And we need their numbers. A scattered handful of females does not appear to suffice to force the change. Put enough women into a forum and they will keep us on our toes. I promise. (The key being the ”enough”.)

There is an analogy with our recent experience with the expanding role of cyclists in some of our cities. If there are none out there on the streets, few people even think about it. If there are a few, this makes no great difference. But once there is a strong quorum, strong presence, this starts to change everything. And not just for the cyclists. There is ample proof in this in city after city where this transformation has started to take place.

One important wrinkle on this is provided by a singing phrase of the Gender and Built Environment collaborative program at who advise us: “Don't treat women equally”. Hmm. Something I think that is important for each of us to think through for ourselves.

Now what?

However it works out, I would hope we do not need yet another law to make this happen. But we will need a high profile public commitment by leaders and a growing culture which accepts that there is simply no other way of going about this. (And if that doesn't work, well there is always the law. No reason to be excessively timid about this.)
On August 26th 1920, almost 89 years to the day, the Nineteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution formally passed into the law, guaranteeing the right of women's' suffrage. A long journey that get its symbolic start when Abigail Adams in 1776 asked her husband, one of the framers of the Constitution and one of our first president to "remember the ladies". To which he responded that men will fight the "despotism of the petticoat".

It then took something like 134 years for this oversight to be rectified. We don't have, and we don't need, that much time to do what we should be doing in our bit of daily life. We can get the job done in 2010. If we do it together.

The editor

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