Governments across Europe agree that action must be taken to change attitudes and introduce concrete measures to significantly reduce instances of sexual harassment on public transport.
In France, 99% of women say that they were a victim of gender-based harassment or worse in 2019. The French government has taken steps to change this and it is now seven years since the creation of the High Council for Equality between Women and Men (Le Haut Conseil à l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes).
Its declared role is to “ensure consultation with civil society and lead the public debate on the main orientations of policy related to women’s rights and equality”. It contributes to the evaluation of public policies concerning equality between women and men by evaluating studies on the impact of current legislation, collecting and disseminating analyses related to equality and by formulating recommendations and advice to the prime minister.
The state of sexism in France
In its latest annual report of the state of sexism in France published in March 2020, the Council highlights a variety of issues noting the scale of the #MeToo movement, the macabre annual count of 149 femicides (murders of women because they are women) by spouses or ex-spouses and revelations of sexual violence in many fields, such as the arts and culture or sport.
It also underlines the creation of new offences such as “sexist outrage” and the broadening of the concept of sexual harassment. This legal framework is founded on a definition of sexism being an ideology based on the inferiority of one sex in relation to others. It refers to a set of seemingly harmless manifestations, such as comments and jokes, and more serious attacks resulting in rape and murder. They all delegitimise, stigmatise, humiliate or violate women and they affect them in terms of their self-esteem or mental health and incite them to modify their physical appearance or behaviour.
Surveys carried out on sexism, and the data collected by the Ministries of Justice and the Interior, are all unequivocal: sexist acts are overwhelmingly committed by men against women. Taking all criminal offences together, 87% of victims of sexist acts are women and 91% of those implicated are men. The sexism experienced takes a variety of forms but is suffered by almost all: 99% of women said they were victims of an act or sexist comment in 2019.
The new generation declares itself less tolerant of sexism and also more combative facing it: 92% of young people consider that sexism is a problem in our society.
Gender-based harassment in public transport is violent and has daily consequences on women’s lives
The High Council has also looked in some detail at the situation in relation to public transport. It has formulated a series of recommendations to government and society in general.
The phenomenon of gender-based harassment in public transport is violent and has daily consequences on the lives of women, especially as they represent two thirds of public transport users. These attacks arouse fear, stress, helplessness or anger. Abusers create strong psychological pressure, which can affect women’s health.
This constant pressure hinders women’s freedom because, as a result, they often feel obliged to adjust their daily lives in deciding which route to take and at what time of the day, which modes of transport to use or adopt a specific attitude or wear particular clothes in an attempt to avoid potential problems. Gender-based harassment and sexual violence at any level are aimed, consciously or not, at excluding women from public spaces.
Although ubiquitous, the phenomenon is poorly understood and largely minimised. The Council has called for determined action from the French government, local authorities and transport operators. It has recommended a National Action Plan entitled “Stop gender-based harassment and sexual violence in transport”, which is based on three orientations and fifteen recommendations, twelve of which were included in the government’s own action plans:
ORIENTATION N° 1: Define and measure gender-based harassment and sexual violence in public spaces, in particular in public transport.
ORIENTATION N° 2: Transport operators to take action, by adapting already existing alert systems, by training those who may witness violence, by testing innovative solutions in the organisation of transport services and by reducing the exposure of advertising that degrades the image of women.
ORIENTATION N° 3: Public authorities to take action in order to raise awareness, recognise and reduce the phenomenon.
As with many action plans of this nature it is difficult to accurately assess progress. However, proposals such as these make it possible to better understand the phenomenon, to better recognise it and to combat it. Transport is a key link to women’s freedom, and should no longer be the preserve of stalkers, but a vehicle for diversity and equality.
One of Diamond project’s key aims is to convert data into knowledge with the objective of ensuring that policy makers and transport operators look at public transport from the perspective of women. With this in mind WAVE, along with its consortium partners, has organised focus group research to understand what is important to women passengers when using buses, trains and metro networks, in particular in terms of safety and security.
The layout of vehicles and stations and on-the-ground customer service support are of particular concern. Other research has collected data from those who work in the sector looking at how women can play a greater role in driving changes that benefit not only women but all transport users.
Recommendations from this research will be compiled into a comprehensive set of guidelines for government, policy makers, transport authorities and transport operators that will be made widely available.
WAVE – WoMen and Vehicles in Europe is an association that promotes gender diversity in the automotive and mobility sectors. There are a wide variety of jobs that are often little known to women. Inviting more women into the world of cars and mobility means opening up to a broader range of talents and taking advantage of skills and working styles that are different and complementary to men’s.