A Model Methodology for Closing the Gender Data Gap

To better address women’s transport needs, two studies collected data exploring travel habits in African metropolises. Their unique methodologies can provide a model for how to best collect such data and interpret the nuances it reveals.

Transport in major metropolitan areas often reinforces existing gender inequalities. While one mode of sustainable transport, such as cycling, might be ideal for men, women might be reluctant to take it up for safety reasons. A Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route might be efficient and affordable for a man commuting between home and work but deemed too expensive or time-consuming for a woman tasked with caregiving errands.

Understanding how people use transport is key to reducing inequities. Yet if the data used to formulate evidence-based transport policy does not assess the needs of all users, regardless of gender, income, age, or ability, there’s a risk that these inequities may be exacerbated. To rebalance sustainable mobility, making it safe, affordable, and comfortable for everyone, city mobility planners and policy makers need gender segregated data to draw on. You cannot resolve obstacles until you’re aware they exist.

Recognizing the need for more inclusive data, the Women Mobilize Women initiative by TUMI commissioned two studies that collected and analyzed such data in cities across Africa. “Decoding women’s transport experiences,” from WhereIsMyTransport looked at the individual experiences of women using public transport in Nairobi, Lagos, and Gauteng. Meanwhile, in Lagos, Nigeria and Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, Groots Consulting gathered data from across the spectrum in order to delineate differences between the genders.*

Best Practices for Data Collection

While each of the cities in the studies face structural inequities such as economic disparity that feed into transport inequities, the differences in infrastructure and population require a more nuanced look at how mobility is used in order to make sustainable options more attractive. To tease out those nuances, the two studies tested out new and innovative data collection techniques that could be viewed as best practices for gaining greater insight into the gender gap in mobility, capturing the reality for many on the ground.

Surveying at the Local Shops

In Lagos and Abidjan, Groots researchers took a community-level approach. Taking advantage of existing resources, the team leveraged the trust and familiarity local residents have in convenience stores in neighborhood centers, places frequented by both users and non-users of public transport. After formulating a digitally accessible questionnaire, the team offered incentives to shopkeepers to gather a number of survey responses within a short timeframe. The survey, which was rolled out across the “tabtap” SHOP app, gathered over 1,000 valid responses with over 32,000 individual data points, including insights into transport satisfaction. This approach worked especially well for several reasons:

  • Those who may not otherwise participate in such surveys due to their digital literacy could take part with the help of shopkeepers in completing the survey.
  • The use of shops adjacent to public transport stops or hubs could accurately capture the lived experience of a range of public transport users.
  • Potential biases were eliminated as interviewers were not present.

Controlling for location, types of shops, and time of day, the data collection could be viewed as random and representative. The results also showed a good balance between male and female respondents in both cities and revealed other regional differences that might otherwise have gone unremarked. Women in Abidjan, for example, communicated reluctance to use bicycles as an alternative mode of transport — something not found in Lagos.

While the data analysis revealed location-specific clues as to how to better promote sustainable mobility (in Lagos, for example, less than one-quarter of women respondents said they could afford to use public transport each week at its current prices), this sort of randomized survey offers future benefits. Now that these shops have actively taken part in such a survey, the data collection process can be more readily be reactivated to assist in future data collection. The platform, which has already proved itself efficient, flexible, and highly scalable, can be turned to again to observe trends, developments, or identify any impacts due to infrastructure changes.

Interviews, Ride-Alongs, and Other Ways to Uncover Gender’s Role in Mobility

The study from WhereIsMyTransport looked at women’s transport experiences in Lagos, Nairobi, and Gauteng, taking a slightly different, equally exemplary, approach to data collection. Beginning with a thorough literature review to uncover where exactly the data gaps lie, they found that women in Africa had often been viewed as a homogenous, all-encompassing group. To accommodate for the vast differences that occur geographically as well as economically and individually, they adapted a methodological approach that disaggregated data for age, class, and other factors.

Three-pronged in its approach, the research consisted of digital and telephone surveys followed by focus group discussions, women-only workshops, and ride-alongs. These workshops, which included only women, took an interactive approach to seeking out patterns among the 8-15 participants present. In the closed, culturally-sensitive environment, researchers were able to hear women speak openly and without fear about the barriers they encountered when using public transport and their concerns for future development.

Home visits and ride-alongs with select participants further deepened the research. By accompanying women on their daily journeys (while ensuring participant privacy), researchers were able to map women’s door-to-door journeys and witness the obstacles they faced while using transport. They could also observe aspects of the journey that the participants themselves may not have been aware of, such as how they responded to safety or harassment fears, and interview them during their travels to gain insight into their choices.

Taking this mixed-method approach allowed researchers to personalize otherwise nameless statistics, complementing the survey data with real-life, qualitative experiences. The user-centric approach to data collection, though relatively uncommon for a mobility survey, can help to close the gender mobility gap by tracing women’s movements and finding solutions to best respond to their individual needs.

Although adapting methodologies to each city is necessary to find answers to specific mobility questions, gathering qualitative data that can be quantified to isolate gendered differences in transport has been made easier via these replicable models. Among the most important lessons derived from these innovative methodologies is the need to accommodate the unique needs of women during the interview process. Women generally have greater caregiving responsibilities and less time so ensuring their time is protected is one important consideration. Meeting them where they are at, ensuring their privacy is protected, and listening to their concerns will allow for more openness. While questionnaires may be useful on their own as a means of gathering data, greater nuance can be revealed through personalized interviews, satisfaction surveys, and via other means. Only through understanding the nuances existent within the female population can mobility be reshaped to better fill the existing gender gap in mobility.

*Although the data collection was open to all genders, the number of respondents who did not wish to disclose gender was extremely low and results were thus compiled into gender binaries.

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