Mobility as a Human Right

Mobility is a vital precursor to men and women’s ability to exercise many of their widely accepted human rights. As such there has been a groundswell of opinion within the transport sector for recognition of mobility itself as a human right.

Investments in transport are moving closer to the community. Their objective is to achieve improved access and this usually means facilitating the movement of people and goods from one place to another. Often this is limited to improving infrastructure e.g. feeder roads, or increasing the supply of services e.g. schools, health centres. The concept of ‘mobility’ in the transport sector (not yet universally accepted by transport professionals) looks at broadening the focus on ‘access’ to include the demand for transport services and the means of transport that facilitate the movement of people and goods.

“Mobility as a human right” focuses on people, and takes into account the obstacles that prevent their movement. Mobility is about people having the power to be autonomous and to take control over their own lives. In this wider sense, improving mobility includes not only developing transport infrastructure and services, but also overcoming the social, economic, political and physical constraints to movement that women and men face. These constraints are influenced by class, gender relations, poverty, physical disabilities, affordability etc. Mobility is about removing these obstacles and empowering people to fully exercise their human rights.

Women's rights have been recognised and guaranteed in all international human rights instruments, notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and its Optional Protocol, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and all other international and regional conventions and covenants relating to the rights of women as being universal, inalienable, interdependent and indivisible human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees women’s right to personal freedom of movement. However, gender relations and the unequal status of women results in gender discrimination and restricts women’s ability to enjoy this right. This is particularly so in situations where the rights of whole communities to mobility is not recognised (e.g. where communities are isolated).

The most important convention that focuses on women’s rights is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). It establishes the general norm and a comprehensive obligation to eliminate discrimination against women in all its form. CEDAW’s articles 7 & 8 ensure equal participation in political life, Articles 10-13 reaffirm women’s human right to education, employment, health and economic and social activities and article 14 pays special attention to women in respect to the above.

Without ensuring women’s right to mobility (as defined above), their ability to enjoy these other rights will be impossible. Several studies show that the lack of access to transport, combined with gender discrimination on women’s mobility, severely constrain women’s ability to attend school, access health services or participate in political, social and economic activities.

Bringing Mobility to the Human Rights Agenda

Establishing mobility as a human right will require further evidence of the relationship between women’s mobility and their ability to exercise their human rights, and advocacy activities to promote the inclusion of mobility in CEDAW and in regional optional protocols.

This item was contributed by:
Dr Coudou Bop
Priyanthi Fernando

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