Did you know that your gender could influence your choices in shared mobility?

Hackathon Draft visuals

Not so sure, you say? 

At first glance, one might think that these disparities are not significant and therefore not a cause for concern. But at Mpact, we think differently. We believe that shared mobility should benefit everyone equally, and it is important to understand the reasons for these disparities in order to find solutions. Moreover, we believe it is relevant to address the issue while the shared mobility sector is still in the emerging phase. This allows us to anticipate inequalities that will be more challenging to resolve in a more established and complex sector. It is in this spirit that in July 2023, we launched the SMEP project, or Shared Mobility Equity Principles, with the support of the SPF Mobility and Transport.

But what is the SMEP project? SMEP is rooted in the observation of usage disparities between men and women in shared mobility and a political willingness to give a voice to young Belgian students on the theme of future mobility. In terms of structure, the project revolves around three key phases. A first phase of research and investigation. A second phase of sensibilisation and interaction with students through a guest lecture given in 3 Belgian universities. And thirdly, a phase of collective thinking with the organization of an online hackathon for students.

Research phase

The first phase of research and investigation resulted in a scientific report on gender inequalities in shared mobility in Belgium and Western Europe. This work provided an overview of the current state of inequalities in the sector, their main causes, and existing solutions to reduce them. 

(Download the report here)

The report notably concludes that the transport system as a whole has been primarily designed from a male perspective, neglecting the specific needs of women. For instance, it is observed that women tend to have more complex and interconnected travel patterns compared to men, largely due to their involvement in caregiving activities. According to a study conducted in Madrid, 40% of women’s travels were related to caregiving, whereas only 9% of men’s travels had a similar association. When it comes to activities such as driving children to school, visiting elderly relatives, or shopping, mobility needs are primarily concentrated in residential and peripheral areas. However, public transportation systems are generally designed to transport people from suburban or rural areas to city centers. Part of the explanation for the lack of consideration for women’s needs lies in the fact that decision-making and employment in the mobility sector are still predominantly male-dominated, both in terms of workforce participation (19.4% in Belgium) and representation in ministerial positions (8% in a sample of 190 countries).

The study also reports that harassment remains one of the most significant issues faced by women when using public transportation (and to a lesser extent when using shared mobility modes). The numbers speak for themselves. According to a study in France, 87% of female public transportation users reported experiencing sexual harassment, with 95% involving male perpetrators. It is not surprising, then, that when questioning young Belgians about their fear of harassment by mode of transportation, the percentage of young women feeling insecure in shared transport is, depending on the mode, between 2 and 8 times higher than that of young men surveyed. One consequence of these (sexual) aggression acts is that women tend to adapt their mobility behaviors to avoid situations where they might feel unsafe, such as traveling alone at night, entering nearly empty train cars, or crowded subways prone to unwanted touching.

However, there is already broad support, both from men and women, for specific measures aimed at increasing the safety of women during their travels. Examples include the night stop system (Canada, Sweden), allowing women traveling alone in the evening or at night to disembark between two stops to get closer to their home and thus avoid long journeys alone in the darkness. Another example is exploratory walks aimed at gathering information on safety concerns.

Guest lecture phase

The second phase of the project took the form of a theoretical and interactive course delivered by Mpact and a guest expert, Isobel Duxfield, in three Belgian universities (UCL Saint-Louis Brussels, Universiteit Hasselt, Vrije Universiteit Brussel). After these lectures, students were invited to draft an initial set of action proposals to improve gender equality in shared mobility. These lectures provided an opportunity to directly exchange with students on their respective experiences and feelings, and to share the conclusions of the scientific report. With the guidance of our guest expert, we also took the opportunity to draw their attention to essential concepts for approaching the theme of gender and mobility from a more structural perspective. One example is the concept of intersectionality, emphasizing the importance of considering the plural identity (gender, race, disability, socioeconomic status, etc.) of each individual, not just one aspect, to better understand experiences in urban space and mobility. This implies recognizing that women (and men) are impacted by mobility systems individually in different ways, marginalized at different levels and under different circumstances when addressing gender inequalities in shared mobility. We also pointed out to students that the issue of gender inequalities in mobility generally fits within the broader and very current framework of the Just Transition, touching on all its aspects and becoming a key subject to master in the years to come.

Action phase: the online hackathon

Now, let’s move on to the third and final part of the SMEP project, the Hackathon ! On the 29th on February, 24 students from five different Belgian universities (KULeuven, Thomas More University, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, UCL Saint-Louis Bruxelles, Université Libre de Bruxelles) attended the online SMEP Hackathon. The goal was clear: students had 23 hours, no more, to create convincing strategy action plans in order to tackle gender inequalities in shared mobility in Belgium. They were divided into 4 groups of 4 to 6 students.

The Hackathon started on the 29th of February at 7pm and finished on the 1st of April at 9pm. Within these 23 hours, we obviously gave students time to reflect and work in groups on their action plans but we also organized online guest lectures during which experts and decision makers shared their findings and experiences on the matter with the students. For instance, Liesbeth De Bruyn from the city of Gent gave a very inspiring speech about policy-making and influencing while Christy Pearson, Head of Central Policy for the micro & shared mobility operator Voi, presented the innovative approach of a private company with regards to gender equality. Students also had the chance to discover research results of both Erin Cooper’s work (KULeuven) – Does MaaS address the challenges of multi-modal mothers? User perspectives from Brussels, Belgium – and Hannah Hook’s work (UGent) on the impact of gender on travel behaviors. 

On the 1st of March at 6:00pm sharp, the action plans of the students had to be finalized and sent to the Mpact team so that jury members could evaluate the different action plans and choose three winning teams based on a list of pre-established criteria like clarity, relevancy, feasibility, innovativeness, etc. The jury included Liesbeth De Bruyn and Christy Pearson but also Charlotte van Vessem and Juliana Betancur Arenas both PhD researchers at Mobilise VUB who work closely on gender topics from different mobility domains as well as Karsten Marhold, coordinator and responsible for partnerships and institutional relations at Mpact asbl

All the four groups did incredible work within such limited timing and it was hard for the jury to deliberate between some of them but the 1st place winning team definitely stood out. In addition to being rewarded with monetary prizes, the three winning teams were offered the possibility to present their plans to decision makers representing each of the three regions during an online meeting on the 29th of May 2024. 

In any case, we can say that this hackathon was a success in terms of knowledge sharing on such an important topic as much for the students as for the experts involved and the Mpact team. 

What comes after SMEP?

Finally, after this rich journey, it is time to conclude where it started : with shared mobility equity principles. Indeed, throughout these three main phases of the project, we, the Mpact SMEP team, can finally draw some lines that should help public and private stakeholders to create policies and / or design mobility solutions that strive for gender equality in the shared mobility sector. 

Firstly, we believe that the gender mainstreaming strategy should be largely adopted within the policy field. As stated by the Belgian Institute for Equality between Men and Women, this strategy aims at strengthening gender equality in society by concretely integrating the gender dimension in the different domains of public policy. It thus consists of making gender visible as a societal mechanism with its related implications during the policy-making processes. Therefore, gender disaggregated data collection needs to be pushed for to become the norm when collecting data in general.

Secondly, we want to encourage cro-creation processes that involve end-users not only through questionnaires but along the larger creation journey of mobility solutions. It surely takes a certain amount of time, energy and means that should be seriously considered before engaging in such a process. But it makes the chances of success with regards to the targeted audience higher than with the usual consultative processes.

Thirdly, we strongly advocate for holistic and systematic collaboration when designing gender sensitive infrastructure. Research and theory from academic experts are necessary to design policies but there are also many organizations that are already working on the subject and have precious feedback to share with you. These same organizations also represent relevant contact points to get in touch with the citizens that are directly concerned by the matter. We thus encourage stakeholders and decision-makers to systematize seeking knowledge exchange from various field actors in order to build up comprehensive policies.


Fourth, we strongly advocate for the systematization of trainings for staff members involved in shared mobility services and public transport as well as for sensibilizations for the general public. This aspect has been undermined for too long although its importance was proven already. If we’re living in a more and more digitalized world, we should not underestimate the importance of the human aspect in the mobility sector. In many situations (harassment in public transport, elderly women seeking her way at a bus stop, a mother in difficulty to enter the bus with the trolly, etc), it is the behaviors of people around us that make the difference in the end.

Fifth, we would like all stakeholders to stop with the “ticking the box mentality” or any type of “gender washing” as this kind of shallow policy has proven to be non-efficient. Herefore, a first step to engage towards concrete change would be the normalization of inclusive communication in policy and communication. Human beings are language beings, hence words matter. It goes with the gender mainstreaming strategy. If you want to design inclusive policies, you better include all genders first by making them equally visible.

Sixth, gender specific policy needs regular policy revisions & updates. As we hope that more and more data on gender will be produced, we believe that there is still an important margin for learning and improvement. Knowing that, we expect decision makers to keep up to date with regards to the evolution of this data.

And finally, we want to remind you of the biggest principle of all in which we want to root all these principles : the SDG 5. We want to remember this to not forget that Belgium is not alone in its fight against gender inequalities and that other countries of the United Nations strive for the same goal. Therefore, we strongly recommend collaborations with public and private stakeholders from outside of Belgium as they definitely have relevant knowledge and best practices to share.

Interested in the results of this project or do you want to collaborate on the topic of gender equity in mobility?

Don’t hesitate to contact our colleagues who are working on this topic at Mpact.

See you soon!

Esen (NL/EN) – hackathon, guest lectures: Esen.Kose@mpact.be

Zara (FR/EN) – hackathon, guest lectures: Zara.hublet@mpact.be

Jelten (NL/EN/FR) – literature study: Jelten.Baguet@mpact.be