There has been a refreshingly enthusiastic reaction to our posting yesterday asking about the general deficiency of information on women leaders in the field of sustainable transport in cities. But one note came in from the prolific environmental educator and recognized policy adviser Elizabeth Deacon challenging us in these exact words: “I assume you think there are in fact women who have had an impact. But I then must also assume that your comments have gone unheeded. At the same time, one has to wonder what the criteria are for measuring “impact” – do you know???” Fair question.
My first reaction to your question was to put it aside until I could think it through. But over the night a small voice woke me to insist that it was an important challenge to which I should try to reply immediately and as best I can. So here is my best answer.
Criteria: For starters there is the factor of staying power, time in place. We are looking for women who have been loyally and energetically at it for at least five to ten years. People who have in their continuing day by day work succeeded in making a difference in one or more notable ways, by their contributions, whether as policy makers, advisors, executives, educators, consultants, writers, community workers, public health specialists, activists and/or examples in their own daily life choices.
Focus area: As to the broad area of policy and practice area in which we are looking for the impacts and influence they may exert, the focus is on the conjunction of sustainable transport, sustainable cities and sustainable lives. And while the central focus is on transport, mobility and access, we all know by now that all three interfaces need to be considered as a whole. Which means that breadth of competence and accomplishment are also very important.
Geography: We are hoping for worldwide coverage. If in a first instance it may be easy enough to get a number of striking examples from, say, the US where the women’s transport movement has been going reasonably strong since the mid-seventies. However we know from experience that the quest is far more difficult in the lower income countries, Latin cultures, and in the former Soviet countries. That said, it is my personal belief that it is for this reason that we should be working more than diligently to see if we can find leading examples from these areas of the world as well. (And we will work on it, be sure!)
That’s about it other than to observe that anyone working in this area has made a tough career choice. By whatever name “sustainable transport” is not an easy job. Because of its extremely unsettled and unsettling nature, the New Mobility Agenda (as we call it) is not an easy place to work and prosper. It not only requires great originality of mind and character but also cuts strongly again established routines and attitudes, but it also involves an ability to be able to deal with situations in which the “other side’ has far more resources and acceptance than anyone who is working for change. And yet, there are people out there willing to work with these odds, day after tough day.
Thus any woman, who decides to tackle these challenges and who is able to make inroads and to provide an example for young women (and men) by her accomplishments and courage, definitely deserves to be right at the top of the list.
In the event, where you will really see what we are trying to get at will become clear when we start to post here the names of people who are being nominated by their colleagues. A very compelling list is shaping up. (And by the way, several people has suggested that your name be placed on it.)
However at the end of the day, the idea here is not to create some kind of football league table or blue ribbon competition for talent and accomplishment. Rather what we simply want to do is to make the world aware that not only is there a huge store of first class female talent out there and working in our sector, but beyond that, if we do not bring women in considerable numbers into all stages of the policy, planning, investment and operations process, then we are really going to miss the boat.
So next time any of us make up a list of outstanding leaders and examples in our field to show the way to others, make sure we have a good selection of these great women on our list. Because if we do not, we simply have not understood what this is all about.