Permeating the barriers between the individual and policy designers in Pakistan: a cross-cultural study of women’s mobility

Faiz Komal, Woodcock Andree, McDonagh Deana, Faiz Punnal, Adha Binti Nordin Nikmatwal, Binti Shamsul Harumain Yong Adilah

gender sensitive transport
systems thinking
SUMPs (sustainable urban mobility plans)
WEMOBILE project

The paper provides a case study of WEMOBILE’s activities in Pakistan, which uses a qualitative, design led approach to study perspectives and practices of stakeholders from public, private and civil sectors of society to gender transport poverty. Methods include co- design workshops such as world Cafés, dialogic inquiry, (auto) ethnography (video and audio recording of daily experiences), and surveys. The findings are used to generate a holistic understanding of women’s mobility problems, “to synthesize separate findings into a coherent whole” (Gharajedaghi 2011).

By using an empathic approach, the WEMOBILE project will analyze the contextual ecosystem of women’s mobility in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) through a systemic design lens to comprehend the structural barriers, systemic architecture of the problem, interconnections and linkages with other elements and factors, and the gaps which hinder the effectiveness of existing solutions. The analysis will lead to designed systemic interventions and improvements in the current solutions for policy designers and decision-makers.

WeMobile- Women’s mobility

WEMOBILE (funded by AHRC under the Global Network fund) is a collaborative, international project between UK, Pakistan, Malaysia and US which aims to use empathic and participatory design approaches to enable policy designers and other stakeholders to understand women’s mobility problems in LMICs. Women’s mobility has been recognized as a key issue by the
of women’s mobility in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) through a systemic design will analyze the contextual ecosystem lens to comprehend the structural barriers, systemic architecture of the problem, interconnections and linkages with other elements and factors, and the gaps which hinder the effectiveness of existing solutions. The analysis will lead to designed systemic interventions and improvements in the current solutions for policy designers and decision-makers. United Nations. UN Goals 11 (make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable) and 5 (achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) can be framed as complex issues which ‘cannot be adequately comprehended in isolation from the wider system in which they are part’ (Burns, 2017).

Transport poverty (Lucas, et al, 2016) and the associated, multiple levels of deprivation experienced by women is a wicked problem ( Rittel and Webber, 1973). These are defined as social or cultural problems difficult or impossible to solve, for example, because of incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnectedness with other problems. Woodcock (2012) represented the whole journey experience in terms of a user-centred model which recognised the role of external, social and cultural factors effecting user’s interactions with the system. This did not acknowledge the effects of the system on the user. The potential role of designers as catalysts in this space e.g. in framing problems, bringing disparate parties together (e.g. in focus group
and co-creation activities) and in envisioning solutions in the transport domain has been recognised (Woodcock, 2016). Crucially, an approach is needed to untangle wicked problems, such as gender transport poverty. The paper argues that systemic design research may provide this.

The global investment in sustainable transport measures in response to pollution, congestion, poor health and depletion of earths’ resources has seen a growth in systemic thinking e.g. by linking transport to health, quality of life and accessibility (to key services e.g. education, leisure, and employment and health services). Systemic thinking may be evidence in transport planning (e.g. in the development of urban master plans or SUMPs (sustainable urban mobility plans) in Europe. However, the experience of transport users is still difficult to obtain or incorporate into planning processes. The usefulness of Distributed – Social Impact Assessments (or Gender Impact Assessments) may be curtailed by insufficient resources to conduct such an assessment (especially in smaller schemes), lack of suitable research methods, holistic inquiry, or political will. As such user engagement often fails to rise above level of information on Arnstein’s level of participation (1969) and there is a need to understand the systemic landscape and use better methods of user engagement to develop culturally sensitive, local, sustainable mobility solutions.

WEMOBILE aims to capture and (re)present the problems women in LMICs face in their everyday travel (e.g. from street harassment, to cultural taboos which forbid use of certain forms of transport, to the design and operation of poorly integrated transport services).
Whilst all sectors of society may face such problems, the burden of women is disproportionately higher as they earn less and take on multiple roles (e.g. wage earner, housekeeper and care giver). Mobility issues in LMICs are wicked problems, systemically linked to many socio-political and cultural problems. It is not just about taking longer and more inconvenient ways to make a journey or being denied the ability to make that journey it is the wider implications of this e.g. stress of managing unintegrated journeys, ill health caused by exposure to high levels of pollution whilst walking, injuries sustained while riding side-saddle on motorbikes or by trapped clothing on vehicles. These are systemic issues. The Centre of Economic Research Pakistan survey found that nearly 30% of respondents considered it “extremely unsafe” for women to walk in their neighborhood, and around 70% of male respondents discouraged “female family members from taking public wagon services” (Sajjad et al., 2017). The gender gap in policy designers and transport service providers means that women transport users in LMICs not only do not have a voice, but that there is an urgent need to find new ways of presenting their problems to increase not only gender sensitive transport planning but also to provide methods and information for more human-centered approached to the development of sustainable transport systems.

Pakistan’s Demographics and Safety conditions

According to United Nations, “sixty per cent of the global population lives in Asia (4.4 billion)” (Population, n.d.). The 6th Population Housing Census of Pakistan (Provisional summary, 2017) shows the total population of Pakistan to be 207.7 million, with 106 million (51%) men, 101 million (49%) women, and 10,418 transgender persons. For Punjab (province) there are approximately 1 million more men than women. Lahore, where this study takes place, is the second most populous city with 11.1 million population (Provisional summary, 2017).
“In Punjab, the female Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) in 2014-15 was 27.8% as compared to the male LFPR of 69.4%. According to UN Data (Adult literacy rate, n.d.) literacy rate of female aged 15 years and older in 2005 was 35.4% while men age 15+ were at 64.1%. Men have a higher literacy rate and higher participation in the Labour Force.
According to Punjab Gender Parity Report 2018 (Punjab gender, 2018), the total number of vehicles owned were 1,649,044 vehicles in 2017, out of which “1% of vehicles were owned by women and 99% were owned by men.” The licences situation seems to be bleak as well. “While 5.2% of licences were issued to women, only 1% of women had a vehicle registered in their name” (Punjab gender, 2018). These figures clearly show a gender gap in terms of employment across all sectors and in transport (as measured by car ownership. In order to develop a more nuanced understanding of barriers to women’s mobility the WEMOBILE team used interviews and design approaches to understand and characterise women’s journeys.

10 stages of women – a systemic approach

Our analysis develops an understanding of mobility systems and structures using the ‘10 stages of women,’ which divides women into ten age groups. For each age group, the factors of mobility, barriers, primary occupations, and roles differ. Figure 1, below shows stages with their primary occupations and social expectations.

In the dependent phases at the beginning of life, journeys are made to school/universities/offices, meet friends and family, attend events and gatherings, and for shopping. Modes of transportation used are:
• Public transportation: buses primarily
• Rideshare: Careem and Uber
• Private-personal transportation: Personal/Parent’s/Guardian’s cars or motorbikes
• Private-public transportation: Rikshaw, Chingchi, Taxi
Mobility barriers include:
• high dependency on others which limits freedom and independence and thus their exposure and growth. Same aged males have a fair amount of independence to walk to destinations, socialize with friends on the streets or play outside the house.
• Exposure to unsafe modes of transportation: harassment, rape, discomfort,
kidnapping and human trafficking, murder
• Unable to walk or bicycle on the streets due to cultural and societal norms.
• Cultural norms which restrict women from leaving the house or from working
• Start of the influence of the dual role of women in terms of earners and domestic workers. No matter what kind of work they do, they are expected to fulfil all responsibilities of the house.

Figure 2 shows the characteristics of the self-sustaining phase in terms of transportation options, barriers, and leverage points.
The transportation options for women in different stages and the barriers, fears, and limitations they face is summarised in Figure 3.

Although he government supports projects such as safe cities, metro bus services, women on wheels and others, their role is fairly limited. The biggest gap in these interventions is the disconnect with other gender related issues and efforts associated with mobility e.g. bus services are improved but harassment issues are not addressed. Moreover, there are disconnects in the interventions by the three sectors i.e. private, public, and government due to lack of collaborations and discrediting each other’s work instead of building upon them. Figure 4. illustrates this.


To conclude, the system largely lacks a gender sensitive and user-centered approach, data, and holistic strategies which connecting solutions to the resolution of issues across the domain. System archetypes such as “shifting the burden”, “fixes that fail”, and “limits to success” (Braun, 2002) exist causing ideas and plans to fail in achieving the desired impact. To address a systemic design research approach can enable sectors to to collaborate to form holistic strategies and implementation plans, dividing responsibilities and financial burdens. Stakeholders will have to be involved at every stage, empowering them to participate with not only suggestions but also actions.


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Posted: Oct-2018

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