COVID-19 and Women, Children, Elderly and People with disabilities

Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash


COVID-19 has created profound shocks to transport and mobility worldwide, and these impacts are especially pronounced on women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons. (OECD)  Further,  the pandemic has exacerbated existing issues of inequality for these groups that affect mobility and access to essential goods, services and opportunities.  Effective responses to the pandemic to serve these groups include enhancing public transport and active mobility options; supporting essential workers, and delivering essential services.   


Enhancing public transport and active mobility 

Women exhibit different travel behaviour than men and thus are subject to unique impacts due to the pandemic. They tend to have fewer available transport options available to them and are more reliant on public transport which has been compromised by COVID-19 in numerous cities and countries. Low income women are particularly vulnerable to pandemic impact, which can have dire consequences for maternal and infant health. (FIA Foundation/CAF)  

To better understand impacts of pandemic lockdowns on women’s mobility in India, the ITDP India Programme conducted online surveys and expert interviews on gender and urban spaces.  These activities have shown that COVID-19 disruptions to transport services have adversely impacted women’s access to jobs and education, and have also highlighted the fact that cycling can play an important role in improving women’s mobility (ITDP). 

India’s government has recognised cycling as a key element of green and equitable recovery.  The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs launched the India Cycles4Change Challenge to support cycling-friendly COVID-19 responses. The Challenge mandates community-centred planning strategies, encouraging participation from women, children, and persons with disabilities. Cities will aim to increase women’s cycling through awareness campaigns to inspire more women to cycle; training programmes to enable women’s access to cycles; and infrastructure improvements to increase safety and security of all cyclists. (ITDP

To further empower persons with disabilities, the Eastern Alliance for Safe and Sustainable Transport (EASST) are creating a Disability Awareness Training online course for public transport companies in lower-middle income countries, which is to be fully developed and led by persons with disabilities. 


Supporting essential workers 

Travel restrictions have caused financial challenges for foreign domestic workers in Southeast Asia (Philippines, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore) who are predominantly female. (Lancet)  And female transport workers are also particularly vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19: a survey of drivers, conductors, booking clerks, and mechanics in Nairobi, Kenya revealed that 52% have lost their jobs, and 97% lack proper nutrition due to supply chain disruptions. (Flone Initiative

The Flone Initiative is providing financial support for women who have lost transport jobs and making safety gear available to protect those who continue to be employed.  An online campaign highlights the impact of COVID-19 on female transport professionals (targeted to Nairobi, Kenya); provides practical communication to operators and on preventing COVID-19 infections; and offers guidance on accessing mental health services and offers mental health best practices that are shareable via WhatsApp. (Flone Initiative


Delivering essential services 

The pandemic has also upended the lives of children around the world. School closures impacting roughly 250 million students in sub-Saharan Africa (on top 100 million pre-pandemic), with the threat of reducing lifelong earning potential. Other challenges for children include restrictions to movement and disruptions to affordable food and social services. (UNICEF)   

Throughout the pandemic, UNICEF has been delivering needed supplies to children despite transport and logistical constraints due to COVID-19.  UNICEF has scaled up operations through strategies such as pre-financing tools to support countries using domestic resources to deliver critical supplies; a mobile app that facilitates faster delivery of supplies through real-time data; and other humanitarian responses to support essential services for children, including education, health, and nutrition. (UNICEF)   

People with disabilities also face a range of barriers to using transport to access essential goods and services, like fresh food and medical care.  Responses to the pandemic response threaten to increase transport barriers for people with disabilities and older adults with mobility constraints, thus exacerbating ongoing health disparities. (Science Direct)  These populations can be empowered through innovative and sensitive responses to COVID, which improve access to essential resources.  These include schemes like FareShare, a program in the United Kingdom that redistributes surplus food to charities, thus providing meals to vulnerable populations while reducing food waste. 



The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the fact that transport and mobility consequences of lockdown measures have unequal impacts on various groups in society.  In addition, more vulnerable groups are likely to be more affected by the COVID-19 measures, due to financial uncertainty, unequitable access to mobility options, and greater social isolation, and related mental health impacts. (Mobycon)  Innovative responses to respond to the particular transport needs of women, children, and persons with disabilities and older persons during the course of the pandemic are needed to ensure more equitable provision of transport and mobility services in a post-pandemic landscape. 

This section was developed by SLOCAT Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport with contribution from Eastern Alliance for Safe and Sustainable Transport (EASST).