After Dark: Encouraging Safe Transit for Women Travelling at Night

Commuters waiting at a bus stop in the Greater Jakarta area

Public transportation services are not always gender sensitive and safety concerns related to women’s mobility in metropolitan areas are at times overlooked. The lack of a safe and inclusive public transportation system influences many decisions that women make, from where to go to work, how far from home to travel to school, to where to shop for basic household items.

Pulse Lab Jakarta has teamed up with UN Women to gather insights on women’s mobility and travel choices in urban areas in order to design practical interventions that can improve the safety of women. What does safety mean for women when using public transportation at night? What is the travel experience like from the time they leave their house, go through transit and arrive at their final destination?

Our Focus

A recent scoping study in Jakarta conducted by UN Women found that women are more vulnerable when travelling after dusk, especially in less crowded areas. Thus our research was designed with a view to complementing findings from this safety audit focusing on women’s travel movements during evening hours.

Whereas the safety audit report looks more into the forms, risk factors, impact, and efforts to prevent or respond to sexual harassment and sexual violence experienced by women and girls in Jakarta, one of the broader objectives of our research is to understand what “being safe” means for women when travelling at night, including learning about what emotions and thinking influence their travel decisions.

We approach this research with the understanding that a woman’s mobility, for instance from home to her place of work, should not be fragmented into dilemmas of safe and unsafe segments — every part of the journey should be safe. We believe that women have the right to safely experience the cities they live in and access the resources it has to offer to achieve their full potential as citizens. Therefore, we will endeavour to learn more about every aspect of women’s travelling experience from the first mile, which is usually near to home; to the last mile; and every stop in between.

In addition, we will investigate the potential of establishing a few integrated transit areas and explore how these transit areas might affect women’s safety during travel. Our fieldwork will cover three major cities in Indonesia: Semarang, Surabaya and Medan.

Our Approach

Human-centred design (HCD) relies on empathising with respondents to understand their behaviours and needs and this approach aligns well with our research objectives. Through this method, we hope to gain a deeper understanding about women’s individual experience rather than arriving at basic generalisations. And to help us achieve this outcome, our field researchers will use diary studies, contextual interviews/shadowing, and in-depth interviews.

Given the unique characteristics of HCD, all three of these research tools are expected to complement each other. But what’s keeping us on our toes as we go further into the field research is the diary study! Through these diaries, we intend to track the respondents’ travel activities in the form of a daily log. Each diary will include information about the respondents’ experience, emotions, desires, needs, and discomfort when travelling from one point to the next at night.

Furthermore, using a diary study can help us to discover what the respondents experience throughout the day since it is a self-reporting tool that reduces observers or interviewers’ influence on respondent’s’ behaviour or opinion. After participants make their diary entries, we will use these notes to trigger further discussion.

a respondent recording her travel activities in the diary we’ve prepared

The next step of the journey

Fieldwork for this scoping study is ongoing and we expect to have some results at the end of the year. The results are intended to be used in several ways, but here are a few things we already have planned:

  • Co-design workshop: insights collected from the field will be repurposed as stimuli for a co-design workshop at the end of the research phase, where our partners and stakeholders will be invited to collaboratively design intervention prototypes.
  • 16 Days of Activism Campaign: insights and materials from the study (such as photographs and respondents’ excerpts and comments) can be used in the global public campaign against gender violence, localising the issues to the Indonesian context.
  • Pulse Stories: insights gathered throughout the research will be collated into a report that will be publicly available on pulselabjakarta.org

In general, the findings from this scoping study should help citizens, city planners, transportation authorities, and other government officials answer the question: How should a safe public transportation system that is sensitive to the needs of women be designed?

We’re excited to be partnering with UN Women on this study, not only because of the opportunity we have to apply our HCD approach, but also the opportunities that are ahead for improving public transportation safety for women and creating safer and more inclusive cities for everyone.


Pulse Lab Jakarta is grateful for the generous support from the Government of Australia.