The Gender Cycling Gap
All woman on the bike - But how?
12.7% - this is how much a woman in Europe earns less than her male colleague in the same position. We should all be aware of this gender pay gap and its urgency. But such gender gaps can be found in almost all domains of our society, including bicycle culture.
The Gender Cycling Gap is one of the most direct illustrations of gender inequalities in traffic and transportation, especially in cities and areas with already low rates of cyclists. In Rio de Janeiro, only 10.9% of cyclists are female, in Delhi it is 2%, and this trend continues in almost all major global cities: New York, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Bogota, London... Women make up more than half of the population of these cities, but only a small fraction of cyclists. Why is this so? What causes the Gender Cycling Gap and what are the cities that score so well on the Gender Cycling Gap Index doing right? In this blog post, we address the essential questions of accessibility and safety, comfort and self-image that women cyclists also face.
In the history of female emancipation, the bicycle is a significant symbol of independence and freedom, as we explained in more detail in the article about the Tour de France Femmes. At the same time, however, it is still a mirror of social inequalities today: Who has access to bicycles, who has been taught to use, maintain, or even repair them, who feels safe and comfortable on a bicycle, and for whom are the bicycle infrastructures of our cities designed?
It already starts with access to bicycles: There is either no money for a bicycle (here the gender pay gap plays a role again) or it has to be shared with other members of the household or family, or the women were not taught to cycle in the first place.
Unfortunately, this also has to do with certain social stigmas that women on bikes face in some cultures and to which they owe many a wry glance: The bicycle symbolizes values such as strength and independence, attributes that some still perceive as inherently masculine. A woman on a bicycle consequently contradicts a conservative ideal of social coexistence. So why should one teach a girl how to use it or even repair it at all?
However, the two most important factors to which the Gender Cycling Gap can be attributed are two very different major constructs: Gender differences in risk aversion and domestic responsibilities.
Women moving through public space are exposed to different risks than men. The latent danger of violence, (sexual) assault and harassment means that women simply do not feel safe enough on many routes, which prevents them from taking them - whether on a bicycle or not. On the other hand, especially at night, cycling, as an alternative to public transport or walking, could save women from many unpleasant situations. It would at least give females more personal control over route, speed and travel time.
Going further, women follow different paths than men. Not because of personal preferences, but because of their particular responsibilities, which have arisen from constructed social roles: First and foremost, caregiving and housework. Those who have to get to work, the supermarket, kindergarten and the like every day find themselves forced to plan routes differently and combine more stops at once. This so-called Mobility of Care, which in our society still has to be done mainly by women, costs energy and time and is impossible for many on a conventional bicycle. To be able to transport children, groceries and the like, a cargo bike is needed, if at all - but even this comes with a hefty price tag and thus we have once again gone full circle and are back to the issue of financial accessibility and the gender pay gap.
Let's pause for a quick summary: The socially constructed role of women as caretakers and nurturers of the family is reflected in almost every relevant cause of the Gender Cycling Gap. Women are less likely to own bicycles, less likely to learn how to ride one, less likely to be taught technical skills about it, and more likely to respect or even fear urban mobility. Incorporating cycling into their daily lives is nearly impossible with a regular bike, depending on domestic and family responsibilities, and the social stigmas of women doing it anyway are still strong in some environments.
The European Union's PRESTO program doesn't really help with that either; the catalog of measures designed to make cycling in cities more attractive aims to encourage the target group of women with the following core message: "Cycling is chic, fun and shapes your body". This message plays into the eternally tedious narrative of the pressure of conforming to female beauty ideals: cycling makes you fit, helps you lose weight and keeps you young, and thus can help shape women's bodies into a socially desired shape? Not only does this miss the mark of simply promoting cycling as the healthy, environmentally friendly, and uncomplicated mobility that it is, but it gives false incentives and adds additional pressure on women. The Beauty and The Bike project (also supported by the EU) is even less subtle in its sad predictability, as it aims to show teenage girls how cool transportation on a bike can be: By showing girls and women cycling on high heels in a 40-minute short film ...
So how do you do it right? Or at least much better? How do cities like Berlin, Munich, Zurich or Paris create a female-friendly cycling climate?
Well first of all by being bike friendly. This means wide and safe bike lanes, bike parking facilities, bikesharing, and pump-up stations distributed throughout the city. By making cycling in the city more attractive to everyone, women are taken into account too. This is supported by studies from New York, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis, where rates of female cyclists increased by as much as 270% in their downtowns after wide, delineated bike lanes were installed. Measures such as lighted bike lanes additionally reduce anxiety at nighttime, bikesharing allows for more flexibility on long trips with many stops, and wide bike lanes even make mobility of care with a cargo bike (where available) less complicated. However, bicycle policies work best for women, when they address them directly. For example, in Berlin there are bicycle parking spaces just for women, in Hamburg there are bicycle workshops by and for women, and the Italian city of Bolzano has been offering cycling courses to its female population since 2008.
There are many gender gaps, but fortunately there are even more ways to close them. In the case of the Gender Cycling Gap, this is already working well in some places, and we in Europe in particular have come a good deal closer to gender equality in cycling culture. We at buycycle are proud to make at least the accessibility aspect a bit easier for everyone. On our platform you will find over 10,000 used road bikes, gravel and mountain bikes, safe, fast and uncomplicated. Take a look at our website and if you have any questions, our team is always there for you. Until then, we wish you all, but today especially the female cyclists out there: Happy browsing, happy cycling!