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Social Indicators: Women’s Rights and Public Transportation

September 29, 2013

What would you call a good development indicator?

As a good friend and I discussed feminism and society, she told me about a hypothesis that argued that an overview of women’s rights and public transportation would indicate a country’s development level. While a cursory overview on Google did not yield any searches as to who came up with this theory (do you know? please comment if you do!) the theory proposes an intriguing concept. Really, what better and far-encompassing indicators could you find?

Furthermore, what about women’s rights in regards to public transportation? Could the status of women’s relationship with public transportation be the ultimate, and quickest, indicator?

The New York MTA subway, 1940s, taken by Stanley Kubrick. Sourced from The Daily Mail 22 April 2012.

Public transportation: Ah, my favorite of travel topics. Unfortunately, I cannot compare the subways of developed countries to those in “developing” countries, since I have only ever road the systems in Europe, Canada and the USA. Barcelona’s subway system probably wins, but Montreal’s comes close on it’s heels. That being said, the United States is (arguably) more developed than either Spain or Canada, and yet the NYC subway system absolutely sucks (I’m looking at you, R train which no longer goes into Manhattan). If a country has a subway system, especially an advanced one (and more than one system throughout the country!) than you know that it has a well-organized government, since planning a subway is no easy task (ahem, MTA and the 2nd Avenue subway line). Furthermore, the country must have the technological capability of building the subway, not to mention a large enough budget to accommodate such a costly venture. And furthermore: this means that the government cares!

Women’s rights:  If women have rights- i.e. they can vote, run for office, hold any job a man can, learn how to read, get a divorce, etc.-then one can safely assume that the rest of society enjoys equal benefits. Not only is the society equal, but one can also assume that the country has a developed economy with a passionate activist sector, NGOs and even a democratic government, because only countries that have enough money have enough time to care about human rights (that’s why philanthropy is relegated to the rich, folks).

Millions of women around the world take public transportation each day, whether they take a bus, train, subway or even a taxi. Although I would certain want to argue this when trying to take the subway during rush hour in New York, it is safe to say that public transportation in the West is advanced enough to more or less accommodate the number of riders.

But what about transportation in heavily populated places like China or India? Like the infamous train photos of India showing people practically hanging out the windows? What happens to the women taking these trains and buses; don’t they run the chance of being groped or molested in such tight quarters?

As a young woman who takes the subway every day, I feel very strongly about taking public transportation. Although I have never had any sort of direct threat from someone, I do feel that, especially in certain areas, one has to watch out when they’re in the subway stations, or in a subway car alone at night. Granted, New York has certainly cleaned up since the days when the subways were covered in graffiti, inside and out. It’s safer now for women, because New York developed. It grew….into a giant, Disney Land-esque yuppie consumer paradise.

Some countries try to avoid sexual harassment by giving women separate cars on subways. Although they may be averting the problem, this does not mean that the country is necessarily developed because, after all, they are avoiding a problem, not dealing with it. Public transportation is meant for the public: the young, the old, men and women.

A girl in my research methods class revealed that she is going to be questioning women about their commutes on public transportation. I think it will be a very interesting survey, and one thing is certain: she’ll certainly have an opinionated response if she interviews me!

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