Women in Urban Mobility

Interview with Prof. Margarita Martínez Díaz from UPC

Foto Margarita Diaz 2018
22 March 2021

Read here an interview with Prof. Margarita Martínez Díaz from UPC and learn more why she is passionate about this project.

What motivated you to participate in this project?

Well, this project is closely related to my interests as a professional and as a woman, and also to those of the institution I represent. I am an Assistant Professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) in Spain. I particularly belong to the area of Transportation Engineering and Territory and I am a member of the Barcelona Innovative Transportation research group. Additionally, I am an affiliated researcher at the Transportation Systems Engineering research group of the Technical University of Munich and a yearly visiting professor at the Hochschule Magdeburg-Stendal. Finally, now, I am glad to be the coordinator of this amazing EIT Academy Program “Women in Urban Mobility” on behalf of the UPC, together with my colleague Elisa Sayrol.
The UPC is a public institution of research and higher education in the fields of engineering, architecture, sciences and technology, and one of the leading technical universities in Europe. Every year, more than 6,000 bachelor’s and master’s students and more than 500 doctoral students graduate. The UPC participates in many international projects with public institutions and companies from all over the world. An example is its participation in the EIT Urban Mobility initiative. Through teaching and research, the UPC's ultimate goal is always to serve society and help it to overcome the challenges that arise. And this project is framed precisely within one of these challenges: that of promoting the participation of women in defining the urban mobility of the future, so that it is efficient, safe, sustainable and inclusive.
Although some improvements have been already made, there is still a gender gap in mobility. It is much larger in developing countries, but visible all over the world. My main wish for this project is to build a broad, multidisciplinary and strong international network of women working in or on urban mobility from different backgrounds, who join their efforts and knowledge to push for gender equality in transport in a decisive way.

Why do you think the gender perspective is important for urban mobility? What are the most important topics we have to discuss?

The introduction of the gender perspective in urban mobility is, first and foremost, a right. All collective must have equal opportunities in all spheres. And mobility is a transcendental area, as it is not only linked to freedom but also to the possibilities of access to the labor market, to personal integrity, etc. Numerous studies have already shown that women's mobility patterns are different from men’s. Transport in general, and urban transport in particular, must respond to the needs arising from these female patterns, when they are voluntary. However, it is also important to consider whether any of these patterns are not voluntary for women, but the only alternative available to them. For example, women are much more reluctant to use public transport from late in the evening because they feel unsafe at the metro, the train station or the bus stop. Some will resort to taxis or their private cars, at involuntary expense, but those who cannot afford this will turn down jobs with late-night hours or far from home, or leave before a business dinner to avoid risky situations.
Beyond equal rights, I believe that any design, idea or project is enriched if it involves multidisciplinary, international, intergenerational, etc. teams. And, of course, people of all genders. The pooling of different sensibilities, interests, etc. gives rise to more complete solutions. This happens in all areas, and therefore in urban mobility.
Hence, transportation equality, mobility behavior, gender attitudes towards current and emergent transportation solutions, urban mobility planning, safety and harassment in transportation, etc., are some of the topics to be discussed. But also the minority presence of women in transport administrations and companies, especially as managers, and their lesser involvement in the creation of start-ups in the field. This is very important for both today’s women and girls, because these last will lack references when they start to build their adult lives.

Which challenges do you see in your city with regard to urban mobility?

Barcelona is a city that, fortunately, has been aware of the importance of closing the gender gap in transport for a long time. One of the greatest successes in this sense is that mobility with a gender perspective is a recurring theme in workshops and congresses as well as in information campaigns. This has led to the emergence of social groups that are also getting involved in the topic. Nevertheless, despite this and the fact that Barcelona has a very complete and efficient urban and interurban transport offer, which is a great starting point, there is still a lot to do. One key point is safety, as I mentioned earlier: more security in the metro, more lighting at bus stops, special prices for taxis and ridesharing systems at night or shared transport services only for women and children, among others, are solutions that should be analyzed and tested. Another area for improvement is the provision of transportation solutions for pregnant women or mothers with babies or small children: it is not easy for them to walk through the sometimes endless interior of the metro or to travel in overcrowded buses during rush hours, for example. I could name many more improvements to be made to the transport service itself. However, there are more aspects that need to change: the still low presence of women in decision-making and management bodies in the field of transport, whether public or private, is also noticeable here. This was understandable in the past, because very few women had the necessary education to hold such positions. Nevertheless, in terms of education, we can nowadays find the same level in both genders. Women need to be empowered so that they are not afraid to apply for these positions and men need to be made aware of the need for their support, both at home and in the workplace.