Nevertheless, She Persisted: Learnings From Our After Dark Research

City governments nowadays are adopting sophisticated technologies and near real-time data to improve planning and service delivery to enhance citizens’ quality of life. Known as the smart city approach, the aspect of the discourse regarding women has focused on improving mobility. However in order to be able to navigate through these fast-advancing, urban cities, women sometimes have to develop their own safety mechanisms because smart cities do not always mean safe cities. Pulse Lab Jakarta recently teamed up with UN Women to conduct research on how women navigate public transportation in the evening time. Aptly called the After Dark research, in this blog we provide a glimpse of what’s included in the final report, as well as the link to the full final report.

The overarching goal of the After Dark research was to understand the mobility patterns and perceptions of safety among women workers who regularly travel at night. The research was guided by the following questions:

  • How do women perceive safety when using public transportation at night?

Framing the Research

There’s a scarcity of research on the safety of women who work night shifts in small retail industries and use public transportation to commute at night in urban areas. In Indonesia, this group of women is quite significant, as the Ministry of Finance reports that they make up around 40 per cent of this sector’s workforce. The focus of the After Dark research was therefore narrowed to focus on the experiences of women who may be employed as shop attendants, cashiers, restaurant servers and in other small business enterprises.

To expand the understanding about women’s safety and mobility choices in urban areas beyond the Greater Jakarta locale, the research was conducted in Medan, Semarang and Surabaya. These three cities all have modern public transportation infrastructure and are popular destinations for local migrant workers who move around in search of better job opportunities. This research complements the 2017 Safety Audit that UN Women conducted in Jakarta, which in addition to identifying risk factors and impact, elaborated on the underlying social norms and beliefs that influence women’s safety in public spaces.

This After Dark research nonetheless differs in that it focuses on the individual experience rather than the systemic factors; it delves into what “being safe” means for women who regularly travel at night; and it examines the emotions and beliefs influencing women’s travel choices. The research was thus designed to gain insights about every aspect of a woman’s travelling experience from the first mile to the last mile; and every stop in between. The objective of this research was not necessarily to arrive at statistically representative findings; instead we sought to glean and mine insights to fill the existing knowledge gap about the experiences of women who travel at night using public transportation. The insights are also intended to complement existing studies that are related and inform alternative intervention designs.

The Research Approach

We approached this research with the understanding that a woman’s mobility, for instance, returning home from work at night, should not be fragmented into safe and unsafe dilemmas — every part of the journey should be safe. We also believe that women should have the right to safely experience the cities they live in and access the resources they have to offer to reach their full potential as citizens.

A total of 37 women respondents from three cities participated in the research. These women recorded their travel experience over four days in a diary, which served as a springboard for our researchers to conduct further in-depth interviews. As part of the research, a few of the respondents were shadowed on their journey home at night, which provided researchers with an actual, real-life context to help synthesise information and analyse findings. Preliminary findings from the fieldwork were shared in a co-design workshop with a diverse group of participants to obtain feedback and elicit ideas for intervention opportunities.

The report below describes the insights that were uncovered following rounds of synthesis and analysis sessions conducted based on the information collected during both the field research and co-design workshop.

From Challenges into Opportunities

We found that the respondents’ perceptions of safety exist on a spectrum — it is not simply a dichotomy of being safe or unsafe. While their overall nighttime travel experiences are influenced by a range of factors, the quality of public infrastructure, efficiency of transportation services and women’s own sense of familiarity with their surroundings stand out. Regardless of how the women perceived travelling at night to be, they all acknowledged that it was part of what they had to deal with having to work night shifts.

For most of the respondents we met with, they highlighted that job options are limited and suggested that they’re better off earning a regular income working at night than nothing at all. Instead of limiting their mobility due to security concerns, they try to find ways to keep going such as building their own protection mechanisms. These mechanisms help them to reduce dependence on friends, family, fellow passengers and onlookers when travelling at night. The main challenge that emerged is two-fold: it is about how to reduce the burden that is placed on women to maintain their safety, and what steps can be taken to build safe and inclusive cities.

We identified five opportunity areas for intervention:

  1. Repositioning Organda (a land transportation organisation that was established by a Ministerial Decree in 1963) to lead the angkot reformation by implementing and monitoring vehicle and driving guidelines to meet safety standards.

Discussed in more detail in the report, these opportunity areas are meant to be explored alongside key stakeholders, such as transportation related government entities, infrastructure development companies in the private sector, grassroots community groups, as well as international organisations that are working towards creating safe and inclusive cities for all.

Pulse Lab Jakarta and UN Women would like to encourage interested organisations to make use of the insights from this research to develop ideas that can be transformed into tangible, user-centered prototypes. We believe, through a consolidated effort, these opportunity areas for intervention in service delivery, transit improvement, stronger social support and campaign for active bystanders can become closer to reality. This is an open invitation from us.

Happy Reading!

The full report is available here for download.


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

Pulse Lab Jakarta

Harnessing data for development, translating insights for social innovation

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Harnessing data for development, translating insights for social innovation

Pulse Lab Jakarta

Harnessing data for development, translating insights for social innovation