How to get to a conference

4 October 2005

Well, I confess I haven’t read resolution 1325, but I’ll get around to it sometime this month. But becoming a mama has given me something of an insight into barriers to women’s participation in decision making and political activity. Last Friday, for example…

I’d been invited to speak at a conference in London. I live in Bristol. I was told I had to be there for 9:30am. Spike is still breast feeding on demand, so his dad’s offer to look after him for the day wasn’t impractical. I explained that would mean leaving home before 6 am which, given Spike’s sleeping patterns, more or less meant not bothering to go to bed at all. In the end I disobeyed and left the house at 7am, arriving a little bit late, but still in plenty of time for my bit.

To get to the train station by bus is inordinately complicated and time consuming so I walked to the train station. I’ve had back pain since the pregnancy, so I decided to walk to the station with Spike in the pushchair, rather than the sling. But then I didn’t want to spend the day wrestling the pushchair on and off trains and buses so I locked it to the bike racks at the station and put him in the sling.

As I locked it up, the recorded announcement randomly mentioned that any unattended items would be removed without notice. I looked at the pushchair. Did it look any more suspicious than a bicycle? I approached the information kiosk, feeling foolish.

"Excuse me, if I leave my pushchair over there by the bike racks, is it going to get blown up?"

The man kindly informed me that 11am was the normal blowing up time and if it was still there after that it would be fine.

Suitably reassured, I went to get on the train, which arrived on time. Seat 21F in Coach A had been reserved for Spike and me. So far so good. Except that Coach A was the quiet coach. For those not familiar with British trains, this is a carriage where mobile phone use and personal stereos are banned. You could have heard a mouse fart. Spike wasn’t strictly banned, not being an electrical item of any kind, but neither is he remotely quiet.

We moved ourselves, got to London, got through the tube and arrived. All well. The conference was fine, someone kindly took Spike for a walk while I did my bit – in fact there were plenty of volunteers for that job.

The bus back to the station was rammed and also late. People are good about giving you a seat when you’ve got a tiny baby but he was hot and uncomfortable and yelling his head off by the time we got to Paddington, nearly missing the train. The train was equally rammed, so Spike had to stay on my lap for the whole hour and 3 quarters, but at least we didn’t have to be quiet.

And then we got off, retrieved the pushchair, still unexploded, and walked home in the pouring rain.

Let’s be clear - I’m not whining. I didn’t have to go. I’ve had far worse journeys, here and in other countries. This certainly isn’t a diatribe against public transport use – Spike’s going to have to breathe this air and whatever we chuck out into it – and it wasn’t even a complicated or difficult journey. But it was still a lot of hassle to get there.

It’s not just the trains. Here in Bristol, only a few of the buses can accommodate a pushchair unless it’s folded and, even folded, they barely fit in the tiny space available. The other day I saw a bus driver come out of his compartment and hold a baby for a mum while she wrestled with the buggy, but it’s not something you ever normally see. (First Bus, sort yourselves out).

The problem is that public transport isn’t very child friendly and, while women are about much more than just child-rearing, we are still the main child carers and that does mean that public transport isn’t very woman-friendly either. (No disrespect intended to any of the men I know who also travel with kids, but you are the exceptions.)

Even walking – with a pushchair it can be impossible to get down the pavement (sidewalk, for those on the other side of the Atlantic) for all the four wheel drives parked on it. Today is wheelie bin day (the day our rubbish / garbage / trash gets collected from bins on wheels on the pavement) so when I took Spike swimming I had to walk in the road, because we live in a crappy oil based consumerist economy where keeping the road clear for cars, the bigger the better, has priority over letting human beings, wheelchairs, pushchairs and those little pull-along trolleys walk down the pavements.

Participation in decision making is essentially what resolution 1325 is about. Well, we can’t participate unless we can get there. The barriers are so fundamental that the solution needs to be radical – not just a reform of public transport, nor a few modifications to the privatised buses, but creation of a new, co-operative economy… of which more later. It’s getting too hard to type one-handed with Spike trying to wriggle off my lap.

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