Leaving Noone Behind: Meaningful Participation as a Tool for Inclusion

Extract from THE ROAD AHEAD, 26 Voices for Safe and Sustainable Mobility, published by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety. Download the full book HERE.

Safe mobility is a right. It is integral to the right to “life, liberty and security of person”[1] and it is an enabler to a multitude of other rights, to work, education, and more. Yet, for too long, mobility has not been safe for all. An estimated 1.35 million road deaths occur globally each year, the eighth leading cause of death and the number one killer of young people aged 5-29 years old. Governments have not taken their responsibility to protect people’s rights seriously enough. Road safety interventions and the way we move around – our mobility system – have been implemented without enough consideration for what we know works nor for the needs of people.

In 2019, nongovernmental organization (NGO) members of the Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety (the Alliance) gathered the experiences of 5,606 people in 132 countries. The resulting report, The Day Our World Crumbled: the Human Cost of Inaction on Road Safety, found that road crashes affect a lot of people multiple times through their lives, 87% knew someone who had been killed in a crash and 95% knew someone who had been injured, and the consequences permeated through many areas of daily life: 11% of crash survivors reported losing their job or source of income; 15.5% said that they or their children had to abandon school; 43% reported experiencing depression, hopelessness, anger, nightmares, or other symptoms and 66% lived in fear of a loved one being in a crash. The report called for decision makers to treat road safety as a human and constitutional right and to put people at the heart of the road system.

Road safety is not equal for all. It is explicitly addressed in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 3.6 and 11.2.[2] Road safety should also be an enabler for gender equality (SDG 5), as well as several other goals in the SDGs, to reach education and work, to be treated fairly and equitably, and to breathe clean air. Instead, lack of safety means the way we move around — our mobility system — is still a barrier, holding back progress and limiting our ability to achieve the SDGs by 2030. UN Resolution A/RES/74/299 on Improving Global Road Safety recalls that  “Sustainable Development Goals and targets are integrated and indivisible.”[3]

Taking examples from the angle of gender, unequal access to safety can be seen in many parts of everyday use of mobility. The standard three-point seat belt, designed around the physiology of the average adult male, may account for why women “have 47% higher risk of serious injury in a car crash than men and are at a five times higher risk of whiplash injury,” and that most vehicle occupant safety tests only use models of the average male[4]. Our transport systems, which are designed to help us get around, including vehicles and roads, do not account for the difference in the ways that men and women typically use the road. Many studies note that women are more likely to travel short distances and for care-giving activities, are less likely to have access to a car, and are more likely to be pedestrians or use public transport.[5] Road users’ experience of public spaces are also affected by gender. In research a study in Belgium found that 91% of women surveyed had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces, versus 20% of men.[6]

This lack of representation is mirrored in the experiences of many other road user groups and inequalities very often overlap. Therefore, when road safety efforts are made to address one issue, it may have a positive or negative impact on other issues. For example, underpasses designed to separate pedestrians from vehicles without impacting traffic flow can make women vulnerable to predators especially at night, and equally create danger for LGBTQ+ road users who are also susceptible to harassment. Crossings that demand pedestrians walk a long way out of their way to cross safely will impact women more often than men. In these two examples, we see a key principle that will help us to address inequality in mobility systems: that inclusivity will not be achieved until we focus on the needs of people instead of vehicles. 

It is time to transform the way we see our transport systems and our safety, putting people, not vehicles, at the center. To do that, we need to involve people, particularly those who are most at risk and those whose perspectives have been overlooked. The groundwork for this transformation is in place. The Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021–2030 (Global Plan) recognizes that by “placing safety at the core of our road safety efforts will automatically make safe mobility a human right.” This is significant because the Global Plan is the blueprint for governments to achieve the 2030 road safety targets, in particular, to reduce road deaths and injuries by 50%. It has been commissioned by UN Member States, through UN Resolution A/RES/74/299, and written with the weight of global evidence behind it, giving it an authority that should be recognized. NGO members of the Alliance have leveraged the launch of the Global Plan by arranging events to personally present their decision makers with the plan, advocating for its recommendations to be incorporated into in-country road safety plans.

Achieving a people-centered approach to road safety means seeking out the reality of people’s experiences. People must be listened to and involved in road safety decisions that affect them. In 2021, the Alliance conducted a survey among its members. The responses demonstrated the frustration and impact when civil society voices were not heard. “Legislators do not listen to all voices and ultimately they vote for laws that have very little effect.”[7] respondents said.

We can achieve this through meaningful participation that ensures that all voices are included and addressed three key principles: inclusivity, empowerment, and representation. This solution is relevant for gender equality, but also for the multitude of other groups that are underrepresented and overlooked in road safety policy, planning, design, and implementation: young people, old people, people with disabilities, pedestrians, cyclists, and many more.

This is where NGOs offer a unique contribution. Involving NGOs are the eyes, ears, and voices of communities around the world: they offer a people-centered perspective. The Alliance’s member survey found that 61% of NGOs reported that meaningful participation was a key enabler for their NGOs’ contributions to the first Decade of Action 2011–2020, while 23% reported that its absence hampered their contributions. As one NGO noted, “Any change or new measure requires dialogue. Meaningful participation of NGOs can only [become reality] if everyone’s voice is heard.”[8]

In 2021, the Alliance published the Good Practice Guide to Meaningful NGO Participation.  It explores the concept of meaningful participation, defining it as “when NGOs participate in a decision-making space on behalf of the communities they represent and in a way that leads to actions that result in the reductions (and possibly ultimately elimination) of deaths, serious injuries and related psychological suffering from road crashes.”[9] The guide shows how NGOs are excellent partners for decision makers, bringing a people-based perspective that can enhance decision making and challenge assumptions. It presents case studies of how NGOs have been able to achieve stronger successes through meaningful participation.

Meaningful participation promotes inclusivity. NGO Patiala Foundation, working with TRIPP Department of Civil Engineering Indian Institute of Technology, used police and census data to show that almost half of the population in Patiala, India, walked (21%) or cycled (25%) to work daily and only 6% used cars. Yet road construction had prioritized motorized vehicles, and facilities for pedestrians, such as sidewalks, were lacking. The NGO brought forward online petitions collected from the local communities and, as a result, roads are being reconstructed to include pedestrian facilities[10][11].

Meaningful participation empowers people. Previously, in Kyrgyzstan, police corruption was rampant and there was pessimism in the community about whether the deep-rooted culture could ever change. Alliance member Road Safety NGO partnered with an existing civil society anti-corruption movement led by NGO Public Association Civil Union that contributed to the formation of a dedicated traffic patrol police unit in Bishkek, including measures that have reduced corruption.[12]

Meaningful participation enables representation of a diverse range of people. In Kenya, a consortium of civil society partners, including ASIRT Kenya and other Alliance members, were instrumental in drafting and advocating for passage of a child safety law, as part of a traffic amendment bill, to improve the safety of children traveling to and from school. Policy makers had not seen child safety as an emergency issue against many competing priorities for resources. Mobilizing communities to collect data helped to show the real picture on the ground and media and community activations helped to keep child safety in the public eye. Small scale pilot interventions around schools in two districts of Nairobi, led by the consortium, reduced crashes by 37% and 49% and deaths by 83% and 60% respectively and demonstrated the real, human impact of implementing the law.[13]

Therefore, with one year of the Decade of Action already behind us, the Alliance and its NGOs are calling for governments to involve NGOs in decision making.

We call on our governments to prioritize the right to safe mobility, putting people at the center of road safety action, implementing the evidence-based interventions in the Global Plan, backed by the financial investment needed to achieve them, and to include NGOs in their decision making. 

NGOs, as the voices of their communities, are ready to facilitate inclusion, empower communities, and represent people, and to keep decision makers accountable for their commitments and responsibilities to uphold the right to safe mobility, implement evidence-based actions, commit investment, and include civil society. This is how lives will be saved and how the 2030 targets will be achieved.

[1] Article 3, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

[2] Sustainable Development Agenda, https://sdgs.un.org/goals

[3] UN Resolution A/RES/74/299, https://undocs.org/en/A/RES/74/299

[4] Global Plan of Action for the Decade of Action 2021–2030, page 21, https://cdn.who.int/media/docs/default-source/documents/health-topics/road-traffic-injuries/global-plan-for-road-safety.pdf?sfvrsn=65cf34c8_33&download=true

[5] Institute Francais des Sciences et Technologies des Transports, de l’Amenagement et les Reseaux, https://www.ifsttar.fr/en/online-resources/science-and-society/transport-and-mobility/science-topics/transportation-mobility-and-security-a-matter-of-gender/sustainable-inclusive-mobility/

[6] Referenced by Wouter Stes, Plan International Belgium at the Alliance Live Session on Gender and Mobility:  https://www.roadsafetyngos.org/what-we-do/resources/alliance-live-sessions/live-session-6-gender-and-mobility/

[7] Good Practice Guide on Meaningful NGO Participation (2021), the Alliance, p.21 https://www.roadsafetyngos.org/what-we-do/resources/publications/

[8] Good Practice Guide on Meaningful NGO Participation (2021), the Alliance, p.21 https://www.roadsafetyngos.org/what-we-do/resources/publications/

[9] IGood Practice Guide on Meaningful NGO Participation (2021), the Alliance, p. 3 https://www.roadsafetyngos.org/what-we-do/resources/publications/

[10]Brondum, L., Sakashita, C. Man, L. and Motta, V. (2022). “New Deal in Road Safety: Why we need NGOs”, Journal of Road Safety, 33(1), 64-70. https://doi.org/10.33492/JRS-D-21-00070

[11]#SpeakUp: I demand the right to walk (2019),  https://www.roadsafetyngos.org/events/speakup-demand-right-walk/

[12] Good Practice Guide on Meaningful NGO Participation (2021), the Alliance, p.14 https://www.roadsafetyngos.org/what-we-do/resources/publications/

[13] Good Practice Guide on Meaningful NGO Participation (2021), the Alliance, p.10 https://www.roadsafetyngos.org/what-we-do/resources/publications/