2 women walking along a brick plaza

Women Walking and the “Gender Step Gap”

A new study from Stanford highlights the inequality in the amount of active mobility across the globe. This study used smartphone data to track the number of daily steps of over 700 000 people in 113 countries, providing over 68 million unique days of data for analysis. It’s primary conclusion is that “activity inequality predicts obesity. Individuals in the five countries with highest activity inequality are 196% more likely to be obese than individuals from the 5 countries with lowest activity inequality.” While this highlight alone is profound, reading further into the data reveals a greater danger for women. Are women paying for bad urban design with their health? An article on The Guardian that delves further into this study says yes,

“The “gender step gap” between men and women was typically widest in high-obesity countries – putting women at greater risk of exercise-related health problems later in life.
In Sweden, the researchers found virtually no gender gap, with men and women walking roughly the same average number of steps each day. Yet in Qatar, women walked 38% fewer steps a day on average than their male counterparts.”

In places where people walk less, women walk least of all. Why is this true? What is driving this correlation between walkability and women’s health? The answer, it seems, comes down to safety. Walkable urban places tend to be safer urban places for all genders. The return is also true- places that aren’t walkable are most dangerous for women to walk in. In places where streets are unsafe, women are more likely to choose to drive, take a taxi, or stay home. These transportation options have a monetary cost to them, making women bear an unfair burden for their safety, but also, as this study shows, a cost to their health.

UN Women identifies safe streets as a primary concern of their global programming, saying “Women and girls fear and experience various types of sexual violence in public spaces, from unwanted sexual remarks and touching to rape and femicide. It is a universal issue. It happens on streets, in and around public transportation, schools and workplaces, water distribution sites, public toilets, and parks in urban, rural, and conflict/post-conflict settings.” How can urban designers work towards these goals, making streets not only safer for women, but healthier?


Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

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