A blended approach to research methods was adopted in Malaysia and Pakistan to ensure the context of the individual was viewed from several perspectives. In Malaysia this included a survey, participant observation, and auto-ethnography and focus group discussions. Data collection was challenging and made use of personal and professional networks, social media, and snowball recruitment. Although potential participants were interested in the research and understood its importance, time was a precious commodity. Taking part in the study meant travelling long distances, taking a break from employment or household duties.

Empathic modeling is a design research approach that encourages researchers/designers to walk in the shoes of the people they are trying to understand. This approach brings the statistics ‘alive’ in that it transforms understanding from a ‘felt sense’ to a ‘felt experience’ to more fully support user-centred design outcomes. The team kept photographs, and discussed their experiences and insights as a multicultural team. Video recording was not considered safe owing to high levels of crime, and risks of provocation and escalation.

The photos on this page are from the group’s repository. Reflections at the end of the page have been made by the PI.

barriers to woman’s mobility in malaysia

conference and world cafe in Malaysia

All WEMOBILE partners attended a focus group discussion held on 3 October 2018 at the Faculty of Built Environment, University of Malaya .

The study was acknowledged by YB Hanna Yeoh, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development in her foreword related to the research and the discussion.

Participants were from the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), the Town and Country Planning Department (JPBD), and the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM). Additionally, involvement from NGOs such as Think City, the National Council of Women Organization, and All Women’s Action Society also highlighted the talks. In addition, some students from local universities such as IIUM, and the secondary school students from SMK (P) Bukit Bandaraya , SMK Sri Aman and SMK Taman Desa also attended.

The participants were divided into 3 groups comprising a group of policy makers, and two from the user group of public transport systems in Malaysia. This discussion subsequently led to the discussion of the results by the moderators.

The outcome of the discussion was that emphasis should be given in terms of mobility to ensure the well-being of the population, especially vulnerable groups such as women.

To further enrich the FGD session, a simultaneous Women’s Bazaar. This aimed to provide opportunities for women vendors to promote their products while providing revenue from sales. including snacks such as ice cream, chocolate, cakes, and accessories such as scarves, skirts, handbags, traditional cloths and perfumes. The sites were provided free of charge to the vendors with the aim of supporting local women vendors for their income sources and empowering women in economic resources in Malaysia.

Optimistically, the findings are expected to be the starting point for the relevant authorities and policy makers working together to create safe mobility for women in Malaysia. Coverage given by media could provide awareness to the public about this situation thus leading to a positive changes especially in our transport system.

Cultural visits

On October 2, 2018, we were brought to the village of aborigines in Kampung Sungai Bumbun, located in Carey Island Selangor. The journey that takes about 45 minutes from the University of Malaya gives a little bit of an overview of the urban environment and hence led to different views of rural environment in terms of the lifestyle especially on the aspect of mobility which being the major concerns by this research.

The visit was initially planned with the indigenous people in the village and went smoothly as planned. This visit attracted researchers as they learned the culture and traditions of indigenous people in Malaysia who were minorities and in other words, the Malaysian side of the society from different angles, especially on the lifestyle, customs and culture. Interestingly, indigenous people in Kampung Sungai Bumbun are well-known for their cultural and handicraft activities and empowering women in their art activities which are also the main source of income for the community in Kampung Sungai Bumbun.

The arrival of researchers was warmly welcomed by villagers. Furthermore, researchers are exposed to handicraft activities and have the opportunity to learn about the woven art. In addition, researchers also managed to tour around the village as well as mingling with female residents there.

Travelling in Malaysia as women

The difference between Pakistan and Malaysia was immense. This was remarkable even from the airport – which though busy, presented no awkward moments.

As women were free to travel unaccompanied in the streets, in taxis and on public transport. Our colleagues drove their own cars to and from work. Notably, women in Malaysia are seen as active contributors to the economy. So their mobility does matter.

We liked the women’s only carriages on the trains, and dedicated areas for women to wait in the station. Most men avoided sitting in the women’s only carriages. But they certainly took a lot of opportunities to walk through it. Those that dared to sit in the carriage were chastised by women and moved into different carriages.

We were not especially harassed as a group, although we had to remain vigilant. The pedestrian infrastructure was poor in a lot of places, with little lighting and many dangerous /poorly maintained sidewalks which could have produced broken limbs.

Key learnings and reflections

Land use

Travelling to the village and the air traffic control centre left me shocked in ways I had not expected. Looking through the windows of the minibus left me stunned by the amount of land which is dedicated to road transport. Not only the roads, but parking, vehicle repair shops and salvage yards. Kuala Lumpur and many cities in the global south are expanding, transport has to keep up with this, but the cost of this seems to be wholesale destruction of a high percentage of land, just to service road transport, without any thought to the design and quality of the built environment . If people saw how much land has been given up, would they not argue for more sustainable modes of transport?

Coping with the weather

Our trip to the indigenous village was in some doubt owing to the likelihood of flooding and roads being swept away, Although we saw little to concern us, the monsoons with daily, predicable heavy rain are something that as to be contended with everyday as public transport stops working. For women this is extremely problematic as they are responsible for arranging children’s travel to and from school. This requires planning, and contingency planning, with informal social networks and social media being used to rearrange emergency travel. This seems to be a daily event, which should be better addressed by transport planners and designers, not only in Malaysia but globally. With climate change we are all seeing more extreme weather, and changing weather patterns, rather than building more of the same. It is time to think how transport and infrastructure can be changed to cope with this better.

Dual burden of women

In the west, although traditionally women are seen as carers, homemakers and take more responsibility for childcare, this is now not as marked as it used to be. Roles are sometimes totally reversed, or tasks shared equally and without rancour.

What was most startling, and which really only became apparent in our work in Malaysia was that working women were still the main homemakers. The same was true in Pakistan and across the global south.

Women may do a full days work (usually for less pay than their male counterparts and in less attractive jobs), and then have to do 4-8 hours of household chores on top of this. Having a family curtails women’s life opportunities. Streets, transport, and buildings are not ‘buggy friendly’. Women are responsible for looking after the house, elderly relatives, and children. They have to arrange not only their travel but accompany or plan the safe travel of their dependents. As they also have to schedule in housework, their employment opportunities are severely limited, employees do not have child-friendly working practices, or daycare centres near to them.

Unreliable, inaccessible, and unsafe transport adds significantly to a woman’s everyday burdens.

Employment and lack of record keeping

Despite national and international directives and schemes in LMICs to increase the educational qualifications of women (in all disciplines), women face immense barriers to employment following graduation. For example, in 2016, it was estimated that only 25% of Pakistani women who hold a degree work outside the home (Tanaka and Muziones, 2016). Indeed, socio-cultural barriers may prevent women from taking up any form of employment. Those who do work may not be considered ‘respectable’ and bring shame to their families (World Bank, 2006). Gaining permission to work is just the start of a working woman’s problems. Firstly, their job opportunities are geographically restricted by transport provision and cultural and societal norms – restrict their use of certain forms of transport and time of travel. Secondly, regardless of whether a woman works or not, she will spend, on average, three times more hours a day in unpaid care and domestic work than men in LMICs (Chant, 2013; Evans, 2015). This equates to up to 8 hours of extra work a day on top of paid employment. This limits the time available for paid work, commuting, education, and leisure, further reinforcing gender-based socioeconomic disadvantage

One of the most significant barriers to any form of female employment is access to safe, affordable and reliable transport. Although access to cheap, safe, secure, and reliable forms of transport is key to women gaining gender equality, this needs to be accompanied by a raft of other measures.

Working in a male-dominated industry such as transport is especially challenging for reasons alluded to, for example, in Turnbull (2013) such as cultural stereotypes, legal restrictions on working time of women (which precludes them from nightwork), lack of family-friendly working arrangements, lack of facilities for females in the workplace, gender biases in human resource development policies. Organisational change, embracing gender mainstreaming, is widely advocated, e.g., in ILO Policy on Gender Equality and Mainstreaming. However, it will take time. In the meantime, insufficient progress in improving women’s mobility and quality of life is made. In using ethnographic methods and system maps, the WEMOBILE project wishes to find new ways of representing the reality of women’s lives.

Significantly, for Malaysia and many LMICS, there is a lack of data on graduate destinations and gender disaggregated employment for transport and other sectors. This was raised in the focus groups. Without this basic information it is difficult to supprot women, and their progression in thetransport industry. So although countiries may be providing gender euqality in educations, and pisitiovely enouraging women to take higher degress, they do nto find themselves with any employment opportunites.