Permeating the barriers between the individual and policy designers: a cross cultural study of women’s mobility

Komal Faiz, Punnal Faiz, Andree Woodcock, Deana McDonagh, Adilah Yong, Nikmatul Nordin

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    WEMOBILE is a collaborative, international project between UK, Pakistan, Malaysia and US which aims to use empathic and participatory design approaches to enable policy designers and other stakeholders to understand women’s mobility problems in LMICs (Low Middle Income Countries). Women’s mobility has been recognised as a key issue by the United Nations. UN Goals 11 (make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable) and 5 (achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) can be framed as complex issues which ‘cannot be adequately comprehended in isolation from the wider system in which they are part’ (Burns, 2017).
    Transport poverty (Lucas, et al, 2016) and the associated, multiple levels of deprivation experienced by women is a wicked problem (Rittel and Webber, 1973). These are defined as social or cultural problems difficult or impossible to solve, for example, because of incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnectedness with other problems. Woodcock (2012) represented the whole journey experience in terms of a user centred model which recognised the role of external, social and cultural factors effecting user’s interactions with the system. This did not acknowledge the effects of the system on the user. The potential role of designers as catalysts in this space e.g. in framing problems, bringing disparate parties together (e.g. in focus group and co-creation activities) and in envisioning solutions in the transport domain has been recognised (Woodcock, 2016).
    The global investment in sustainable transport measures in response to pollution, congestion, poor health and depletion of earths’ resources has seen a growth in systemic thinking e.g. by linking transport to health, quality of life and accessibility (to key services e.g. education, leisure, and employment and health services). Systemic thinking may be evidence in transport planning (e.g. in the development of urban master plans or SUMPs (sustainable urban mobility plans) in Europe. However, the experience of transport users is still difficult to obtain or incorporate into planning processes. The usefulness of Distributed - Social Impact Assessments (or Gender Impact Assessments) may be curtailed by insufficient resources to conduct such an assessment (especially in smaller schemes), lack of suitable research methods, holistic inquiry, or political will. As such user engagement often fails to rise above level of information on Arnstein’s level of participation (1969) and there is a need to understand the systemic landscape and use better methods of user engagement to develop culturally sensitive, local, sustainable mobility solutions.

    In the case of WEMOBILE, the team aims to capture and (re)present the problems women in LMICs face in their everyday travel (e.g. from street harassment, to cultural taboos which forbid them using certain forms of transport to the design and operation of poorly integrated transport services). Whilst all sectors of society may face such problems, the burden of women is disproportionately higher as they earn less and take on multiple roles (e.g. wage earner, housekeeper and care giver).
    Mobility issues in LMICs have become wicked problems, systemically linked to many socio-political and cultural problems. It is not just about taking longer and more inconvenient ways to make a journey (or being denied the ability to make that journey) it is the wider implications of this (e.g. stress of managing unintegrated journeys, ill health caused by exposure to high levels of pollution whilst walking, injuries sustained while riding side-saddle on motorbikes or by trapped clothing on vehicles). These are systemic issues. According to a survey by Centre of Economic Research Pakistan, nearly 30% of respondents found it “extremely unsafe” for women to walk in their neighborhood,” and around 70% of male respondents discouraged “female family members from taking public wagon services” (Sajjad et al., 2017). The gender gap in policy designers and transport service providers means that women transport users in LMICs not only do not have a voice, but that there is an urgent need to find new ways of presenting their problems to increase, in this case gender sensitive transport planning, or in the wider case to provide methods and information for more human centred approached to the development of sustainable transport systems.
    WEMOBILE will use empathic and codesign activities along with dialogic design bringing together pertinent stakeholder to provide an experiential perspective which is able to permeate the sphere of the policy designer. Empathy may be described as “our intuitive ability to identify with other people’s thoughts and feelings – their motivations, emotional and mental models, values, priorities, preferences, and inner conflicts” Fulton (2003 ).
    The paper provides a case study of WEMOBILE’s activities in Pakistan, where a mixed method approach was used to study perspectives and practices of stakeholders from public, private and civil sectors of the society. Methods include co-design workshops such as world Cafés, dialogic inquiry, social experiments, video and audio recording of daily experiences, design probes, and surveys. The findings will be used to generate a holistic understanding of the women mobility problem “to synthesize separate findings into a coherent whole” (Gharajedaghi 2011).
    Crucially in employing empathy the WEMOBILE project will analyse the contextual ecosystem of women mobility in LMICs through a systemic design lens to comprehend the structural barriers, systemic architecture of the problem, interconnections and linkages with other elements and factors, and the gaps which hinder the effectiveness of existing solutions. The analysis will lead to proposing designed systemic interventions and improvements in the current solutions for policy designers and decision-makers.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2018
    EventRelating Systems Thinking and Design: Challenging complexity by systemic design towards sustainability - Politecnico di Torino, Turin, Italy
    Duration: 24 Oct 201826 Oct 2018


    ConferenceRelating Systems Thinking and Design
    Abbreviated titleRSD07
    Internet address


    • Gender
    • Transport
    • Poverty


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