Women in Africa face substantial discrimination in the transport sector, both as transport users and as transport sector employees. This affects their wider access to work, education and training in every sector. Relevant skills acquisition, at an early age, is essential if women are to break through such barriers.  

This research project, “Youth engagement and skills acquisition within Africa’s transport sector: promoting a gender agenda towards transition into meaningful work”, aims to explore and help address these challenges. It is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund [GCRF]  and was awarded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council [ESRC]. The grant runs from 1st December 2018 to 30th November 2021].  

The study focus is on young women and girls of low socio-economic status living in less accessible locations of three cities: Abuja (Nigeria); Cape Town (South Africa) and Tunis (Tunisia). In each city region our field research is focused principally on one peri-urban neighbourhood and one city-connected settlement beyond the city boundary.  Through the research (which encompasses diverse modes of transport, including walking as well as non-motorised and motorised vehicles) we aim to produce gender-sensitive transport/travel related skills guidance and make this available to governments, the private sector, NGOs, and academia working at local, national and international levels.

There are three, interlinked strands to the research:

The User Strand, which focuses on exploring young women’s travel and transport usage, the barriers they encounter, and the impact on their access to employment and training programmes. 

The Employment Strand, which focuses on women’s employment experiences within the transport sector.

The Action Research Strand, which is designed to build on findings in the User Strand and the Employment Strand, paying careful attention to local context and needs. It will pilot transport-related skills training for women to improve their access to employment (both directly, through employment in the transport sector and indirectly, through the travel safety skills that will enable them to travel to diverse employment opportunities). Expanding women’s employment in areas such as commercial driving and vehicle repair and maintenance can help build a critical mass so that women users feel safer travelling on public transport.

Project progress

Data collection is still ongoing in all three cities. In each of our study areas a small number of unemployed local young women were trained as community peer researchers at project outset, to help build a firmer understanding of local context and constraints.  Their early work has been important for ensuring that a full range of appropriate issues are taken forward in the academic-led research. Subsequently, the academic research teams have conducted interviews in each city region with a wide diversity of stakeholders, both within and beyond our focus communities, concerning women’s travel and transport-seeking behaviour, as well as their employment experiences and aspirations. Linked research has taken place in schools and after-school clubs regarding girls’ experiences of getting to school, how they perceive transport-related jobs, and their views regarding skills acquisition if they were to work in the transport sector.  A further strand of work with community men and boys explores their attitudes to women’s and girls’ travel and potential to train and work in the transport sector.

Country Consultative Groups, which meet intermittently in each city, are providing an important wider forum for discussion of project progress, findings and potential skills training interventions. These groups include representatives from relevant government ministries, NGOs, CBOs, the private sector, study communities together with the peer researchers and academic team.

Design of appropriate skills-based interventions for piloting in each city  (specifically tailored to address our findings about local context and needs) is being led by Transaid, our NGO collaborator. This work is ongoing:  the first pilots were due to commence shortly in Tunis (followed by Abuja and then Cape Town), but  have had to be postponed due to COVID-19. We anticipate that they will take place from September 2020 onwards.