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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 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 but has been 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 18-35years, generating personal mobility diaries and conducting ‘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, but  new lockdowns are currently being implemented.  Since March, some of our peer researchers have also elected to write mobility diaries which include 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.

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, study communities together with the peer researchers and academic team.  However, only one  Country Consultative Group  meeting has been feasible since March 2020, due to the pandemic.  This  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).

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  have had to be postponed due to COVID-19.    Two  transport-user-focused pilot intervention workshops  were rescheduled for Tunis in October 2020  (some elements online, some face-to-face with limited numbers) but these had to be cancelled at short notice due to an upsurge in local COVID-19 infection and associated bans on social gatherings. We anticipate that the workshops in all three city regions will have to be postponed till January 2021 at the earliest.