Measuring Women’s Mobility in Low Resource Settings

By Devaki Singh, Madhu Joshi, Sonal Shah
October  5, 2020

Even before COVID-19 transformed our public lives, women’s access to education and employment opportunities was constrained in low-resource settings like the state of Bihar in India. A historically poor state, Bihar is characterized by rigid gender norms, which translate to low levels of secondary school completion—just 12% women ages 15-49 have 12 or more years of schooling—and the lowest female labour force participation rate in India at 4.4%. While several supply- and demand-level interventions to facilitate women’s economic engagement and empowerment have been initiated in the state, women’s access to opportunities remains limited. ‘Access’ itself is a gendered issue, referring to the ability to reach and use diverse resources such as information, skills, rights, political participation, and voice. Constrained daily mobility, or the ability to physically access different facilities, has a profound impact on women’s economic participation and their empowerment. The inability to safely and easily reach educational institutions or places of work limits women’s economic engagement and participation. The daily mobility of women is guided by complex factors including established social norms, transport infrastructure, urban planning, governance, and access to information and communication technology. 

With this background, mapping women’s experiences with transport and their mobility patterns in urban Bihar is an important first step to devise urban planning and policy solutions that can improve their public experiences and participation in the economy. Further, accelerating conventionally ‘gender-neutral’ interventions, like electricity, lighting, pavements, roads, that can have a positive impact on women’s public lives, is vital in rigid patriarchal contexts like Bihar – where gender norm change may take generations to materialize.

As part of Centre for Catalyzing Change’s (C3) Sakshamaa – Initiative for What Works Bihar, an urban mobility mapping exercise was undertaken between January and March 2020. The sample survey of 1947 respondents across three cities of Bihar – Patna, Gaya and Muzaffarpur – collected their demographic information and recorded their monthly travel diaries. The sample focused on the prime working age group – people between 18 and 49 years of age – and was split equally across gender, with 49.9% (women) and 50.1% (men). Focus group discussion (FGDs) were conducted with women on their professional aspirations and the challenges and barriers they faced while traveling to access economic and other opportunities. FGDs were also completed with transport providers to understand their perceptions of safety and harassment, awareness of their role, and openness to change.

Travel Diaries: Travel diaries are a widely used measure to assess the mobility patterns of individuals or groups, and draw inferences for transport and city planning. For this survey, a traditional travel diary based on memory recall was used. Respondents’ typical weekday travel schedules were recorded, covering their travel time, trip purpose, destination, main travel mode, and cost.

1 International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) and ICF. 2017. National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), India, 2015-16: Bihar. Mumbai: IIPS.

 

2 Labour force participation rate (LFPR) (in percent) according to usual status (ps+ss) for women aged 15- 59. Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (2017-18) Annual Report, Periodic Labour Force Survey. Government of India. New Delhi.  

What did we find?
Even though the sample belongs to the prime working age group, there is a gender employment gap of 50 percentage points between men and women. 

  • 62% of women respondents are homemakers.  
  • Women who work do so as tailors, domestic workers, vegetable vendors, teachers, home-based workers making mosquito nets, in beauty parlours, or in grocery stores.
  • Women who work in urban Bihar earn 25-50 percent less than working men. 

The household and care work burden falls squarely on women. 

  • Women who work spend 4 hours per day on household and care work, compared to 1 hour by working men. 
  • The gender disparity is also observed amongst students, as female students spend twice the time (median = 2 hours) on household work, as compared to male students (median = 1 hours).

Women travel less than men, but make more trips by walking and shared intermediate public transport (i.e. autos/tuk-tuks/e-rickshaws). Contrary to global travel trends, where women travel more frequently than men, women in urban Bihar make 37% fewer trips per day than men. 

  • 82% of women’s trips are for non-work purposes. In fact, a third of women’s trips are for household shopping and other related household work. 
  • 57% of women’s trips are by walking and 30% are by shared intermediate public transport. Women make 60 percent (1.6 times) more walking trips than men do and 50 percent (1.5 times) more trips by shared intermediate public transport. 
  • Twice the number of men and thrice the number of women rated the streets as very poor in the night, as compared to in the day. Poor lighting, broken footpaths and waterlogging were cited as reasons for the poor ratings.
  • Close to one-fourth of the female respondents have faced harassment while commuting. 

In a novel finding, men are more dissatisfied with the mobility situation than women, including foregoing economic opportunities. Women have perhaps normalized the existing situation, implying the need for a concerted effort on awareness campaigns. 

What next?
This research is one of very few that has estimated women’s care-related travel – a key policy input. Conventional mobility services planning, based only on work and education trips, will exclude around 40% of all trips in urban Bihar, and most (62%) of the trips made by women – creating gender-blind plans and erasing women’s care-related and other travel needs. One of the ‘low-hanging fruit’ solutions for women’s mobility is to improve the urban walking environment, particularly by addressing lighting, footpaths, and bus stops. In terms of larger policy interventions, some actions that should be explored include awareness and behaviour change campaigns on safe mobility and public harassment, increasing the supply of buses, and increased regulation of intermediate public transport services.

This research is led by Sonal Shah (The Urban Catalysts), under C3’s Sakshamaa – Initiative for What Works Bihar.

What did we find?
Even though the sample belongs to the prime working age group, there is a gender employment gap of 50 percentage points between men and women. 

  • 62% of women respondents are homemakers.  
  • Women who work do so as tailors, domestic workers, vegetable vendors, teachers, home-based workers making mosquito nets, in beauty parlours, or in grocery stores.
  • Women who work in urban Bihar earn 25-50 percent less than working men. 

The household and care work burden falls squarely on women. 

  • Women who work spend 4 hours per day on household and care work, compared to 1 hour by working men. 
  • The gender disparity is also observed amongst students, as female students spend twice the time (median = 2 hours) on household work, as compared to male students (median = 1 hours).

Women travel less than men, but make more trips by walking and shared intermediate public transport (i.e. autos/tuk-tuks/e-rickshaws). Contrary to global travel trends, where women travel more frequently than men, women in urban Bihar make 37% fewer trips per day than men. 

  • 82% of women’s trips are for non-work purposes. In fact, a third of women’s trips are for household shopping and other related household work. 
  • 57% of women’s trips are by walking and 30% are by shared intermediate public transport. Women make 60 percent (1.6 times) more walking trips than men do and 50 percent (1.5 times) more trips by shared intermediate public transport. 
  • Twice the number of men and thrice the number of women rated the streets as very poor in the night, as compared to in the day. Poor lighting, broken footpaths and waterlogging were cited as reasons for the poor ratings.
  • Close to one-fourth of the female respondents have faced harassment while commuting. 

In a novel finding, men are more dissatisfied with the mobility situation than women, including foregoing economic opportunities. Women have perhaps normalized the existing situation, implying the need for a concerted effort on awareness campaigns. 

What next?
This research is one of very few that has estimated women’s care-related travel – a key policy input. Conventional mobility services planning, based only on work and education trips, will exclude around 40% of all trips in urban Bihar, and most (62%) of the trips made by women – creating gender-blind plans and erasing women’s care-related and other travel needs. One of the ‘low-hanging fruit’ solutions for women’s mobility is to improve the urban walking environment, particularly by addressing lighting, footpaths, and bus stops. In terms of larger policy interventions, some actions that should be explored include awareness and behaviour change campaigns on safe mobility and public harassment, increasing the supply of buses, and increased regulation of intermediate public transport services.

This research is led by Sonal Shah (The Urban Catalysts), under C3’s Sakshamaa – Initiative for What Works Bihar.

ACCOMPANYING PHOTOS ( © The Urban Catalysts and Centre for Catalyzing Change)