Sara Ortiz, of Col-lectiu Punt 6: “Feminist mobility is sustainable”

Last week we had the opportunity to talk about feminist mobility with Sara Ortiz Escalante, sociologist and urban planner from Col-lectiu Punt 6.

We had the opportunity to get first-hand knowledge by both urbanism and feminist mobility, a view that Col-lectiu Punt 6 has been presenting since 2005. We could also talk about the convergence of ways between sustainable and feminist mobility, the need to make caring visible and bear it in mind when developing mobility policies, and how decisive the perception of safety can be in defining feminist mobility.

What is Col-lectiu Punt 6 and what is its origin?

Collectiu Punt 6 is a cooperative of female architects, sociologists and urban planners that has been working since 2005 to integrate a female outlook in urban planning, architecture and mobility.

We are based in Barcelona but we have been working in over 30 cities and towns in Catalonia, Spain, Latin America and North Africa. We conduct projects related to urban planning and architecture, participatory processes and community actions, awareness activities, training and building technical teams in feminist urban planning, and whenever we can, we conduct participatory actions research on certain issues that government services do not promote.

Since you have already mentioned it, what is feminist urbanism trying to highlight?

Feminist urbanism is about valuing life. We live in cities designed from an androcentric, patriarchal and capitalist point of view that focuses on production, paid work, consumption and optimal use of spaces.

This has been carried out focusing on a model citizen in mind, linked to the androcentric vision of the middle-class white male, paid employment and fully skilled. And this way of building cities makes us live in places where 70% of space is occupied by cars, always thinking of productive activities but not in other activities. It does not meet most of people’s needs and in particular those of women, who make up more than 50% of the population.

Feminist urban planning proposes to change priorities and focus on people’s daily lives, and above all to make visible and valuing how we build a city in all caring tasks.

Without caring, both nature and people, the world does not reproduce. Unfortunately, women are still the biggest caregivers in the world, working double and triple shifts. We are 85% of unpaid caregivers. It is key role to make it visible so that caring is no longer the sole responsibility of women but is shared publicly and communally.

The second goal of feminist urbanism is to integrate a female vision in the approach to urban safety and integrating gender violence, which limits women’s right to the city, and the perception of lack of safety, which also differ according to gender.

All this is not possible if it is not through the participation and neighbourhood community actions, who are the ones who know their area the best and live their neighborhood intensely from day to day. But the participation of women is especially important, as they are largely excluded from urban planning. These are highly male disciplines, reproducing condescending dynamics that have made women’s contribution invisible.

Sara Ortiz Escalante

Talking about feminist urban planning, is also talking about feminist mobility?

Yes, in fact we talk about urbanism but we work with different variables. And precisely the area of mobility and transport is a highly mobilized field. There is a lot of talk about sustainable mobility, but it is not said that women have had more sustainable mobility habits than men for decades. On the other hand, mobility policy has not looked at how to learn from these sustainable mobility dynamics.

It is planned from the perspective of mobility to work or study, as valued key, defining a mainly male profile. However, the most common mobility is not mobility to work or school, but rather mobility for caring or personal activities.

We need to talk about how to integrate this female mobility in the study and analysis of mobility to obtain complex information about the entire population and to conduct mobility policy from this perspective, both in terms of management, relations and infrastructure.

Earlier you talked about the importance of safety perception in mobility compared to gender mobility. How important is this factor in defining women’s mobility, and what other factors do you consider to be equally important?

They are super defining because safety perceptions limit women’s mobility, especially at certain times. Women are socialized to fear sexual assault at night, and are exposed to different forms of gender and sexual assault when they move around.

The first survey on sexual harassment on public transport in the Barcelona metropolitan area shows that more than 50% of the women surveyed have experienced sexual harassment on public transport in the last two years.

Men are afread, but of other things, and it is not an element limiting their mobility according to the different studies. Anxiety is more related to other forms of more physical violence, but not sexually related, except for non-binary males or with trans or LGTBI identities. Type of violence not affecting such intimate parts of the body.

It is also a violence that we can’t explain. We live in a system that blames and continues to accuse us of being victims of sexual and gender violence. We look at perception of safety linked to gender violence, but also how gender influences perception of road safety. Stereotypes are also reproduced: men are taught to be brave, to run, to not be afraid, whether they ride a motorbike, a car or a bicycle; while women are taught to be afraid.

How does this translate into practice? We have done a longitudinal study in Barcelona over the last three years with women, introducing a feminist viewpoint, and one of the elements we’re addressing is safety perception. In this study we observe that 50% of female cyclists in Barcelona have experienced harassment or gender violence, affecting their mobility. How cycling and the routes they take affect them.

Moreover, this harassment often differs from road harassment, which also involves a gender bias: the insults, the way of harassing is different from men’s, they are sexist insults.

We also collect data from non-cyclists who cycle in Barcelona to find out the reason why they don’t cycle. And when asked about barriers, they agree that there is no complete cycling infrastructure, connecting cycle lanes, separated and segregated from motorised traffic, which is hostile and terrifying: of being run over, attacked or harassed on the road.

It is important that there are separate exclusive cycle lanes, allowing us to cycle at different paces without rushing, or to be accompanied by dependent cyclists.

What are the key issues that should be resolved urgently addressed to reduce road harassment?

A combination of factors is needed. Col Lectiu Punt 6 produces a document of recommendations to include the female perspective into cycling mobility in Barcelona. And we work with the gender criteria developed in Col-lectiu Punt 6 on mobility issues and with the vital bicycle policy.

It is a question of how we study and analyse cycling mobility in Barcelona, not only collecting data segregated by gender but also by other identity variables in order to perform intersectional analyses, as not all women nor all men are the same. By age, origin, if you are a racialized person, if you have functional diversity… understanding all this from a feminist viewpoint. This requires training and specialization.

Obviously the infrastructure also plays a role: What are the cycle lanes like? How are the cycle paths? Are these cycle paths allowing different paces for overtaking? Are they wide? Allowing to be accompanied? Are they signposted? Signposting is basic as not everyone can rely on a mobile phone, and the basics of cycling mobility maps are not that good yet. So vertical signage is important, without obstacles, with cycling infrastructure.

In Barcelona they have set up motorbike parking areas at intersections between cycle lanes on the road. That is dangerous because it is a visual barrier when the car turns. Moreover, if you are a person who rides an adapted cycle that is lower than a bicycle, it is even more dangerous. A whole range of infrastructure elements should exist that are not only considered in terms of productive activity.

There is also an educational element to promote use in cities where mobility is dominated by the car. Regulations must also change.

In short, a series of combined elements so that this view can be incorporated transversally into the entire urban bicycle mobility policy.

Where do sustainable mobility and feminist mobility converge? Is it really possible that there is feminist mobility that is not sustainable?

Feminist mobility is anyway sustainable. Some speeches on sustainable mobility are not feminist and dominated by male voices, often from the privileged upper middle class.

In most of the areas, women go on foot and use public transport. In Barcelona car use is mostly male. There is a gender gap on cycling, 35% are women cyclists in Barcelona. It is a gap that still exists.

Feminist mobility is sustainable because it stems from ecofeminism, which has always claimed that the fight against climate change cannot be understood without understanding the caring crisis, which has been processing women’s time as caregivers. Feminist mobility cannot be understood without understanding how to improve active mobility or public transport, which responds to other activities of daily life and in particular to the activities of caring and reproduction of life.

The cities that are most concerned, not only about mobility but also about the liveability of public spaces, seem to be the ones that are generating new forms of mobility. Do you agree with this?

Feminism does not apply automatically. The recommendations we made to the Barcelona City Council arise from the fact that when they started with Covid to expand spaces for walking, sidewalks and cycling mobility, it was done in a hierarchical way without a feminist view. It was not understood how the caring infrastructure should be guided, nor was the diversity of commuting taken into account.

Now it’s fashion to take the cars out of the cities, something that has been claimed by feminism for 5 decades, it may seem a feminist action. It depends. In Barcelona, infrastructures continue to be built without this vision. If they are narrow, without signposting, if they do not allow progress, if there are visibility barriers, if they do not connect the different spaces, there is more infrastructure but not necessarily in a feminist tone. It is not automatic, the transversal view must be included, a way of working that is incorporated in all phases of planning or mobility policies.

What should the institutions do that wish to work on mobility policies in a feminist sound? What would you say to those institutions where feminist mobility might sound all Greek?

Like languages, they are learned and you have to train. Training in feminist perspective issues is key role. There is a devaluation that says that feminism is simply common sense, but requires learning and training.

There must be a technical and political will to apply this viewpoint. It is neither difficult nor impossible nor utopian. It is a question of will and time, because radical changes are being made every day with great insistence and patience.


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