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Women in Tunis and their encounters with mobility

Daily encounters with mobility in Tunis
Lots of people use the metro – for women not always easy.

While I was a student in Marburg and Frankfurt, I would use public transport on a daily basis. I would check my app to find out when the next bus or train was due and simply step out my front door. The situation is quite different in other parts of the world. In many cities, daily transport is a true test of your patience. As the daughter of a Tunisian and on account of the close ties I have with the country, I was keen to find out how women in the North African country move around; a study which formed part of my Master's thesis.

I studied the relationship between gender and mobility in Tunisia and tried to find out whether women have to overcome any particular hurdles when making their way through the capital of Tunis? To this end, I asked 13 female students about their mobility behaviour. Previous studies had concluded that students select their means of transport based on factors such as costs, personal preferences and the actual infrastructure available, e.g. the existence of footpaths and cycle routes. I wanted to explore the problems that women find themselves confronted with.

My brother has a driving licence; I don't

Gender and mobility in Tunisia
Safety comes first.

"By the time I'm sitting in my lecture at 8 in the morning, I have already been up for two hours, having waited for the bus, changed to the metro and walked to campus," says Asma, a medical student from Tunis. "My mother and I cannot afford a car," she explains. Finances therefore play a decisive role when selecting a means of transport.

"My brother has a driving licence and uses the family car. For some reason, my parents think I don't need a driving licence to be mobile," reports Sara. Upbringing and social norms also play a key role.

"When I compare my own situation to my brothers' then I notice the difference. They can simply hop onto the step of a moving bus and hang out the open door. I, on the other hand, am scared of getting harassed," explains Nour. "I never travel alone on public transport at night." Because they are afraid of harassment, young women avoid public transport, bicycles and certain routes, or only use public transport during the day or if they have someone with them.

Sicherheit hat Vorrang

Essia Sophia Ouertani
Essia Sophia Ouertani was a student trainee in KfW's Energy and Mobility team for North Africa and the Middle East between 2015 and 2017.

From this, it can be concluded that there are both gender-independent and gender-specific barriers to mobility. The factors that apply regardless of gender include old buses, uncomfortable seats, poor schedules – or, in short, a lack of attractive infrastructure. In contrast, the female students regarded the question as to whether a form of transport is safe and how many people use it as one of the challenges that mainly women have to deal with, making it a gender-specific issue.

So, what can be done to counter this? The students questioned said they would like to see more frequent services and extra buses, trams and trains as well as CCTV cameras or security staff in stations and on public transport. However, they largely rejected the idea of segregating public transport by gender, as is practised in other areas, including Mexico City. Instead, they would prefer to see a shift in mentality in society – or in men! – so that gender equality becomes the norm, not least in the public sphere. On this point, Asma adds: "We have to raise our children as equals from a young age, then things will improve in future."

In my thesis, I demonstrated that gender-sensitive perspectives are important in the planning and implementation of mobility projects – including in development cooperation – because they ensure equal access to transport and enable women to participate more in society. Projects like this will also contribute to more equal opportunities.

In conclusion, consideration of women's needs can lead to a better perception of public transport as a whole, while also contributing to the fulfilment of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is therefore worth taking women's issues seriously, particularly when it comes to public transport.