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.  Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, additional pressures on women’s mobility have further exacerbated these constraints.  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 31st March 2022.  

The study focus is on young women and girls of low socio-economic status living in peripheral 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 neighbourhood located within the city boundary 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 potential 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). The work is aimed at expanding women’s opportunities for employment through equipping them with the skills needed to influence improvements in the way transport is managed and operated so that women users feel safer travelling on public transport.

Project progress

Research is ongoing in all three cities but has been significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, a small number of unemployed local young women were trained as community peer researchers at project outset in each of the study areas, to help build a firmer understanding of local context and constraints.  Their early work interviewing women in their communities aged 18-35 years, generating personal mobility diaries and conducting stationary (sit-down) and ‘on-the-move’ interviews with fellow transport users, 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, their transport experiences 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.

Face-to-face interviewing had to be halted, due to COVID-19, in March 2020.  Subsequently, conditions gradually eased in some research sites, allowing limited work to start up again at times, but further lockdowns and curfews have also intervened.  From March 2020 onwards, some of our peer researchers elected to write mobility diaries which have included their accounts of travelling to buy food/other essentials and experiences of being stuck at home, unable to travel out. The research team has also monitored and documented COVID-related developments in the transport sectors in all our three study countries, creating an on-line archive [available at the Covid archive tabs for each city]. 

For a review of our findings please see: Porter, G., Murphy E., Adamu, F., Dayil, P. De Lannoy, A., Han, S., Mansour, H., Dungey, C., Ahmad, H., Maskiti, B., Clark, S. Van der Weidje, K.  2021. Women’s mobility and transport in the peripheries of three African cities: reflecting on early impacts of COVID-19. Journal of Transport Policy 110: 181-190. 

[This is available on this website under the Resources tab.]

Country Consultative Groups, which meet intermittently in each city, have provided 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 and study communities, together with the peer researchers and academic team.  However, only a small number of Country Consultative Group meetings have been feasible since March 2020, due to the pandemic.  One was held in Abuja in early October 2020, with careful attention to required safety procedures (and with  the international team only able to participate online). Other CCG meetings took place in Cape Town in mid-July 2021 and in Abuja in late September 2021.  More informal meetings with individual CCG members have also occurred in each city.   Final CCG meetings incorporating reportage of project findings are scheduled take place in each city just prior to project completion in March 2022.

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 in Tunis in April 2020 (followed by Abuja and then Cape Town), but had to be postponed due to COVID-19. The delivery of these interventions is being conducted in partnership with Tounissiet in Tunis, with Girls’ Voices in Abuja and with Sonke Gender Justice in Cape Town.

Two transport user-focused pilot intervention workshops went ahead in Tunis in October 2021, one in each of the research locations. These workshops were preceded by a roundtable discussion with transport providers to share our aims and objectives, and to promote further dialogue relating to the adoption of enhanced measures to ensure women’s concerns linked to public transport utilisation are addressed. 31 women attended the workshops and were able to participate in the collaborative development of a customer service charter and an associated action plan. Subsequent roundtable discussions will seek to influence the adoption of the customer service charter by public transport providers.

User skills workshops similarly took place in Abuja and Cape Town in November 2021, with similar objectives but in very different settings. In Abuja the use of informal modes of public transport (i.e. okadas and kekes) is more dominant than in Tunis, presenting additional challenges in terms of ensuring the voices of female users are heard, and in Cape Town the minibus taxi industry is regularly associated with violence between rival associations.

The employment skills training in Tunis – targeting women currently working in the public transport sector – is well underway with the first phase completed in November 2021. Transport Management Systems training is being delivered remotely and the first phase is being followed by ad hoc support within the workplace to ensure that learning is relevant to the specific context in Tunis.

Employment skills trainings in Abuja are currently taking place with a focus on building the skills of women working on what are perceived as the lower rungs of the ladder in the public transport sector, to facilitate their advancement to more senior positions. In Cape Town, the training will commence in late February 2022, targeting female minibus taxi operators whose numbers are increasing as a direct result of ongoing violence (i.e. where women have taken over a dead husband’s business).