Catalonia confronts sexual harassment in public transport

Following Catalonia’s extensive data collection on sexual harassment in public transport, the region is now activating a comprehensive response, putting in place targeted measures.

Sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence in public spaces, both in urban and rural settings, are an everyday occurrence for women and girls in every country around the world.

Indeed, the data are clear. According to a recent study, one in three women have experienced or witnessed harassment while using public transport.

Catalonia have led the way in data collection on women’s experiences of urban mobility.

In 2020, their survey on sexual harassment in public transport in the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona revealed almost 17% of all criminal acts declared by residents take place in public transport infrastructure, of which women are more victimized (60%) than men (40%).

An astounding, 91.6% of women between the ages of 16 and 25 have suffered a situation of harassment on public transport. The survey also explored bystanders’ reactions and revealed 72% of witnesses did not intervene or notify professional services.

No transition without a Just Transition: Impacts of gender-based violence

As cities and transport operators are recognising, sustainable mobility targets will not be met without actively confronting the issue of women’s safety and security. .

Catalonia’s study exposed, one-quarter of women report deploying avoidance tactics (compared to just 8 per cent of men), taking measures including never travelling alone on public transport. Indeed, an astounding 2/3 of women avoided travel during dark hours - for men, this was less than 20%.

Women make up over half of public transport users, and research in the UK forecasts the number of public transport users would increase by 10% if passengers, especially women, felt safer.

These numbers are not to be sniffed at. From London to Paris, cities are rapidly doubling down on their efforts to tighten security and encourage women’s ridership.

At the same time, new and shared service operators are also all too aware that their success hinges on catering to women’s transit demands - with both Voi and Uber conducting extensive research into the impacts of gender-based violence on usership.

Catalonia in action

It is one thing to collect data, it is another to put it into action.

The Government of Catalonia has approved the new Plan of measures for the prevention of sexual harassment in public transport. It is a document to combat sexual assault, with measures to be implemented in public transport in 2025.

The Plan contains 18 measures in 5 lines of action (LA) for the prevention of sexual harassment, from governance to design, prevention and awareness raising:

LA1: Governance

Coordination at the level of administrations and agents involved in the planning and management of mobility for the prevention of sexual harassment in public transport. Lay the strategic and political foundations for a future management and planning of transport with a gender perspective.

  • Define the legal framework in which to implement the action measures to ensure their correct implementation.
  • Establish management structures in order to know and deal with sexual harassment conflicts.
  • Search and manage information with the aim of diagnosing the situation of women in the public transport system.
  • Promote job opportunities and the presence of women in the field of transport.

LA2: Design and operations

Establish the necessary transformations in the design of public transport infrastructures, spaces, vehicles and operations to ensure that transport services help meet the specific and common needs of all users, while promoting public transport on equal terms. .

  • Establish a planning and design of the transport system taking into account the needs of women in the sector.
  • Design a public transport integrated with the public space that improves and alleviates the perception of insecurity.
  • Adapt infrastructures and vehicles to make public transport more inclusive.

LA3: Prevention and care systems

Promotion of systems for the prevention and care of sexual violence in public transport that lay the foundations for coordinated and appropriate action.

  • Define the reference people in tackling gender-based violence in public transport
  • Facilitate intervention against sexual harassment on public transport
  • Promote public awareness in the identification of sexual violence
  • Guarantee the confidentiality of people who experience situations of gender-based violence

LA4: Awareness raising

Advance in raising awareness of gender equality and tackling gender-based violence, through internal actions to raise awareness among working people and through awareness-raising communication actions towards citizens using public transport.

  • Raise awareness among public transport staff about gender-based violence in order to encourage their identification and action.
  • Encourage community action in the face of sexual harassment.
  • Advancing in social sanction towards sexual harassment and harassment.
  • Actively show intolerance towards gender-based violence, and specifically towards sexual harassment on public transport.

LA5: Technological tools

Encourage the use of technological tools available to the public in order to encourage the reporting of situations of sexual harassment and facilitate the connection of people using public transport with companies providing public transport.

  • Encourage the reception of reports of sexual violence on public transport.
  • Incorporate a communication tool or digital application so that users can report any situation of sexual harassment.
  • Observe which variables are involved in situations of sexual harassment in public transport (area, time, influx, space, etc.).

You can find the full plan HERE.

Want to find out more about this topic?

POLIS' Working Group for Safety & Security actively addresses this issue, fostering exchange, learning from policy experiences, and encouraging cooperation between members and the wider civil society on this critical issue.

To find out more please contact Isobel Duxfield