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Nordic Transport Investments: Are They of Equal Benefit?

The Nordic governments are spending significant resources on improving transport solutions, but who is benefitting? A new network of researchers is focusing on the democratic right to mobility.

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Women, young people and the elderly use public transport more than men and middle-aged citizens. Politicians need to be aware of this when they choose to spend resources on motorways instead of bus stops, says Hilda Rømer Christensen at Coordination for Gender Research in Denmark. The organisation has taken the initiative to develop a Nordic research network on gender equality and transport issues.
‘We’re taking a comprehensive approach and want to encourage political initiatives,’ Rømer Christensen continues.

Why is the gender equality perspective important when dealing with transport issues?
‘Major investments are made in the transport sector, but who do the investments target? Researchers and politicians tend to forget that different groups have different transport habits. They often base their norm – consciously or unconsciously – on male drivers. For example, Denmark has orchestrated major campaigns for green motorways with charging stations for electric cars and fast “super bikeways”, but the campaigns appeal mainly to male long-distance bicyclists from the suburbs. It is important to assess these initiatives from a gender equality perspective, but we also need an intersectional analysis.’

What do you mean?
‘We need to include more factors than just gender in our analyses. There is research showing that the higher a woman’s income, the more she will drive. High-income women also drive larger cars, so the view that women live more sustainably than men changes somewhat when we control for class. There are also some negative stereotypes that need to be questioned, like the view that young men from ethnic minority groups are wild and careless drivers.’

Hilda Rømer Christensen
 Hilda Rømer Christensen. Photo: Coordination for Gender Research

Is there a special Nordic perspective on transports in relation to sustainable development?
‘All Nordic countries want to approach the issue from a sustainability and innovation perspective. There is strong faith in new technology as a solution to environment problems, but there are also differences in the discussion between the different countries. In Denmark, we talk a lot about bicycling, while Sweden and Norway are more liberal to cars and driving. Of course geographical differences are involved, but the Swedish discussion is also influenced by the perceived importance of the car industry. Politically, that has been a strong focus on gender equality in the Nordic welfare states. This view should be applied for transports and mobility, too, to make the benefits of investments extend beyond the powerful groups that drive a lot.’


Concretely, what are your plans for the project?
‘We want to create arenas for information exchange between researchers from different countries and open up for dialogue with politicians. We’re hosting an open workshop at the Nordic Forum in Malmö, where we will present current research and let politics comment on it. In connection with the Forum, we will also arrange a research workshop in Copenhagen.’

Updated 11 February 2021