emissions are decreasing in the EU, but greenhouse gas emissions from transport have increased in recent years. Transport represents almost a quarter of Europe’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and the transport sector has not seen the same gradual decline as others [1
]. Emissions started to decrease in 2007 but then increased (ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/transport-en). According to the Swedish Transport Administration [2
], the Swedish transport sector contributes significantly to this problem, and the Swedish Parliament recently adopted (15 June 2017) a climate act stipulating that emissions from the transport sector must fall by 70% by 2030, with 2010 as the base year [3
]. Most of these emissions are from passenger transport generated by individual travel.
To tackle climate emissions, there is a need to promote sustainable transport, different infrastructure planning and investments, and new technical solutions [4
] and through changed transport behavior [7
]. These changes are necessary for an environmentally sustainable transport sector. There is also a need to support measures supporting less and more efficient freight transports [10
Sustainability is associated with an ecosystem view, but a holistic perspective on transport planning, social, economic and governance systems also needs to be applied, and the time horizon should include the long-term and future generations for intergenerational equity. Cornet and Gudmundsson [11
], suggested that a key feature of sustainable transport planning is the development of sustainable solutions accepted by a majority of the population.
Many factors affect the overall performance of the transport sector, not least the planning and supply of infrastructure [12
]. Decisions on targets and intentions for planning that are in regards to or affect the transport system are made on a comprehensive, as well as local, level. The planning process is characterized by a multitude of actors and the interactions between them, both in Sweden [15
] and in other countries [16
Efforts to include women in transport planning by recognizing their conditions, values and preferences seems a logical step to counter this. We suggest that gender equality may be relevant to increasing energy efficiency in the transport sector, as there are large discrepancies in the sector along the lines of gender in travel patterns and choice of transportation means, as well as in attitudes and norms among citizens, planners and decision-makers [19
Following this line of literature and assuming that women’s presence in policymaking also means that their norms, attitudes and travel behavior could influence policy, gender-equal representation in transport-related decision-making has significant potential to increase the level of sustainability in transport planning by increasing energy efficiency and reducing CO2
emissions. Based on the results of, for example, Kronsell et al. [19
], we started from the hypothesis that, if women were well-represented in policymaking on transport issues, policymaking would also become more sustainable and in line with climate ambitions.
Sweden is known to score highly on gender indexes, such as the EU Gender Equality Index [24
], and has gender mainstreaming as a policy strategy for realizing gender equality [25
]. In the Swedish transport sector, there is already a recognition of the importance of paying attention to gender aspects [26
], even though it is not necessarily realized [29
]. In Swedish transport policy, social concerns are included in the overall target [30
], with more specific attention to gender reflected in the functional target that seeks to create accessibility through the design, function and use of the transport system; this should provide everyone with basic access to good quality transportation in everyday life, specifically, “the transport system should respond equally to women’s and men’s transport needs.” Social concerns are also visible in the considerations target, which stipulates that increased accessibility should be reached in tandem with increased road safety, improved health and improved environmental performance.
The environmental performance of the transport policy relates to the national environmental objectives through its overall goal “to hand over to the next generation a society in which the major environmental problems are solved, without causing increased environmental and health problems outside of Sweden” [30
]. Gender is not explicit here.
The Swedish Parliament has adopted a vision of zero net emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in Sweden by 2045 [3
]. These targets are to be assured through a transport policy in which emissions must fall by 70% by 2030, with 2010 as the base year. In summary, these general provisions in policy, coupled with the knowledge that Swedish women’s carbon emissions from transport are on average lower than men’s—mainly due to men having 44% more car mileage [32
], mostly for work and business [23
]—makes gender analysis highly relevant for the Swedish context.
On the regional/national level, the national Swedish Transport Administration and the regional authorities participate in the overall planning of transport infrastructure by jointly developing long-term infrastructure plans for each region. This is basically a four-year process following the political four-year terms [33
]. The orientation of the long-term transport infrastructure planning is established by the government. The local level and local decisions are important, however, both for providing the basis for future decisions for the transport system and by having responsibility for local transport systems. On the local level, the municipalities have the responsibility for establishing and providing current comprehensive plans (land development plans) to provide guidance for decisions on use of land and water areas, which thus also forms the basic conditions for future infrastructure planning on the national/regional level. The land development plans are an important planning tool but, perhaps more importantly, are an important platform for planners and politicians to gather around to discuss each municipality’s future development [34
]. The plans, however, are not legally binding. Municipalities decide on urban planning and transport issues, such as local streets, parking, maintenance and measures for sustainable travel. At the same time, measurements of local transport sustainability status indicate that there is variation between the municipalities [35
Municipal self-government is a principle that is enshrined in the Swedish constitution. The municipalities must comply with the framework set by the parliament and the government, but municipal autonomy gives each municipality the right to make independent decisions and to levy taxes on its inhabitants to be able to carry out its duties.
In this paper, we ask whether there is a link between women’s presence in policymaking and sustainable transport policy in line with climate ambitions and whether it is possible to capture such an effect empirically, in the same way as research on the relationship between gendered influence on firms’ sustainability performance has done [36
]. Our research design emerged from a qualitative study that provided the conceptual material and inspiration for our methodology. In a systematic literature review, using keyword searches (different varieties of keywords were used to search abstracts, beginning with “gender/sustainable/transport”; to reduce the number of hits to a manageable size, the search was refined with other key words, such as “climate”, “energy efficiency”, “equal representation” and “women”. A total of 63 articles, together with already known works from previous research, formed the basis for the review) in Scopus, Web of Science and Academic Search Complete, where we searched for scientific articles on representation in relation to climate issues and sustainable transport. These articles were analyzed specifically for how they approached and studied the relationship between gender, climate and transportation; we found that the link has been explored previously, but with ambiguous results. A careful review of previous studies also indicated a lack of analyses of gender influence based on quantitative data and at the local level.
The main contribution of this paper is thus a methodological approach in which, besides generating unique data on representation in municipalities (confirming men’s dominance in transport policymaking), possibilities for quantitatively measuring gender effects and the level of sustainability in transport planning are discussed and tested. Challenges in analyzing possible covariances in the data set are also discussed and presented.
Even though there are sustainability measures directed to freight transports (especially in the urban area), this paper mainly deals with sustainability within the passenger transport system due to the general focus within policymaking on measures and strategies directed to this area of transport. Analyses of policies directed to freight transports are also highly relevant for improving sustainability, but this is not within the scope of this study.
This article begins with an overview of previous scholarship on gender and sustainable transport—a crucial foundation for our investigation of the relationship between equal representation in transport policymaking and the level of sustainability in transport planning, both conceptually and methodologically. Next, we focus on representation and discuss the data on representation as one of the variables in our quantitative analysis. This gives an overall view of women’s representation and how it has changed over time. The analysis is based on unique new data on representation assembled for this study. In the section that follows, we present our search for adequate and available data to serve as indicators (indexes) for sustainable transport at the local level. Next, we present the results of our empirical analysis of a possible relationship between gender representation in decision-making in Swedish municipal transport-related committees and the level of sustainability in transport planning as expressed in our indexes. Finally, we discuss the results and their implications for accommodating climate and sustainability targets.
Although Sweden is considered to be a country with a high representation of women in decision-making bodies [109
], the overview in this study indicates very low representation of women in transport-related committees at the municipal level over time (for some committees, none). The representation is somewhat higher for boards, and only the councils can be considered gender-equal. This underrepresentation of women, especially in transport committees, is problematic because the democratic quality of the polity clearly improves when women’s representation increases [73
]. Whether these conditions have implications for climate ambitions and sustainability in transport planning has been the focus of this study. In search of a suitable way to investigate the relationship between equal representation in transport policymaking and the level of sustainability in transport planning, we conducted a literature review and an empirical analysis.
The literature review suggested that there are reasons to be cautious about assuming a simple link between women’s representation in policymaking and the level of sustainability in transport planning. Some studies have argued that there is a relationship between women’s representation and sustainable decisions [91
], whereas others have not found such a relationship [93
]. As there are few studies on this link, we decided to test it empirically and specifically at the municipal level, as we could find no similar prior studies. There is also an interest in conducting studies at this level in Sweden, based on organizational structures with well-founded municipal autonomy.
The search for adequate and available data on sustainability to be used for the empirical analysis turned out to be an important contribution of this study. Initially, we planned for the level of sustainability in transport planning to be measured as the number of car kilometers driven in the municipality. However, figures with sufficient quality were lacking at the municipal level nationwide, and we searched for a sustainability index aimed at transport with good coverage and enough resolution at the municipal level. This, too, turned out to be lacking. Instead, we developed our own indexes based on questions mainly reflecting the municipalities’ preparation of various planning documents and some actions related to those documents.
When we analyzed the relationship between female representation in decision-making bodies and sustainability outcomes in the transport system, we experienced further difficulties. In the regression analysis, we initially planned to include several structural context factors as additional explanatory variables based on their assumed relationship with the level of sustainability. Variables such as population, population density, degree of densification, gender share (percentage of women in the population), socioeconomic index and number of cars per inhabitant were considered. Most of the structural factors, however, showed a strong correlation both with female representation and between each other (much in the same way as in Wide [107
]. This result indicated that higher population densities relate to larger cities, lower car ownership, higher shares of women and a better socio-economy. Hence, in the final regression model (Table 6
and Table 7
), a single structural factor (population density) was included. The population density was considered the most adequate variable for describing the general structural context, and it was found significant for all regression models estimated. This is not surprising, given that higher population density provides better conditions for sustainable transportation than less densely populated areas. Densely populated municipalities are also likely to be municipalities with larger populations and more tax income, resulting in larger investment budgets (including for sustainable transport).
In the analysis, we also had to decide whether to consider a time lag between decisions and their effects on sustainability. This was done by analyzing the relationship between women’s representation in 2011 and 2015 and the various aspects of sustainability based on information from 2015 and 2017. We also discussed whether the causality could be the other way around, i.e. that the share of women in transport committees is dependent on earlier levels of sustainability. A high sustainability outcome would then attract women to politics, thus increasing the share of women later.
In our literature review, we found three studies that explored the link between female representation and sustainability on the national level. Two quantitative studies, Noorgaard and York [91
], a UK study on environmental treaty ratification, and Ergas and York [92
], a global study on CO2
emissions, found positive correlations between women’s representation and sustainable outcomes, defined as environmental treaties and carbon emissions, respectively. However, contrary results were found in the study of Magnusdottír & Kronsell [93
], based on qualitative data from Scandinavian climate policymaking institutions. In that study, equal representation did not
result in any visible effects on the content of climate policy documents nor on institutional practices.
The result of our quantitative study indicated no significant relationship between our transport sustainability index and women’s representation. The notion of critical mass was also considered in the analysis when comparing the sustainability outcome of municipalities with more/less than 40% of women’s representation. This analysis also showed no significant differences. However, since there was barely a critical mass of women in transport-related committees mapped in this study, it is not likely that there would be any strong evidence of women’s more sustainable decision-making.
Focusing on the result of the regression analysis, it is difficult to say whether the results of our study are consistent with or different from previous studies since there are both similarities and differences in their outlines. Our study focused on Swedish local conditions, analyzing representation of municipal politicians in transport-related committees and measuring transport sustainability through indexes illustrating both the presence of policy and planning documents and their implementations and actions, and it can be argued that this is somewhat in line with the study by Magnusdottír and Kronsell [93
One explanation for representation not showing any correlation with sustainability outcomes in both studies might be that the Swedish transport sector is still run according to masculinity norms, which means that practices, planning and structures overrule the presence of women and any femininities they might bring with them—an aspect discussed by Pini and McDonald [110
]. This is also in line with the results of Farrell and Titcombe [111
], who reported the experiences of elected local officials in Wales and described the culture and ways of running offices as less appealing to women. The effect of female representatives might also be overruled by an attitude/intention–behavioral gap, as discussed among others by Pronello and Gaborieau [112
]. Yet another explanation for representation not showing any correlation with sustainability outcomes could be that, since gender equality is a target in Swedish national policy, representation might not be as important for sustainability outcomes. Representation might be less important for including gender aspects when explicitly stipulated in the policy. The variation in our sustainability indexes is also limited compared to, for example, the study by Ergas and York [92
], which made a global comparison of CO2
emissions by country, making it more statistically difficult to capture an effect of female representation on sustainability outcomes.
As mentioned in Section 2.2
, there is a higher degree of negotiation and co-operation across party boundaries at the local level than on the national level in Sweden. We therefore think it is less likely that we would have found a different result if we had also considered party affiliation in our analysis. However, and more importantly, we think that future studies should consider information on the hierarchal positions of female representatives, such as chairpersons, to examine differences in power. This was difficult to include in the current study analyzing representation in committees related to transport discussions, since there were often a number of such committees in each municipality, committees were sometimes shared between two or three municipalities, and the chairperson can change and is less stable during elected periods.
In conclusion, then, further research should be undertaken to better understand the relationship between representation and sustainable decisions in transport planning. The study presented in this article has not been able to show any significant correlations, but, as expected, the relationships between representation and sustainability are likely more complex than this study has been able to measure. Wilson and Chu [95
] also, in a very well-articulated way, pinpointed the inadequacy of focusing merely on participation. This argument is also in line with Wängnerud [72
], who suggested that the link is more probabilistic than deterministic, and the linkages are not straightforward but complex and multifaceted.
Even though the link between representation and sustainability demands further research, further studies should also consider how to move research from the counting of bodies and the representation of women in sustainable transport policymaking to looking at how gender norms inform policymaking, since the low representation of women in transport-related policymaking demonstrated here appears to be a more general trend. The study presented in this paper indicates that there is a need for further analysis of institutional factors and values embodied in organizations that somehow make transport a masculine-coded sector or, taking Nagel’s [80
] viewpoint, that the overrepresentation of men in transport policymaking has had substantive effects in terms of a predominantly masculine sector.