Youth engagement and skills acquisition within Africa’s transport sector: promoting a gender agenda towards transitions into meaningful work

 At a time that young people – particularly young women – are regarded as insufficiently tapped human resources in Africa’s development story, they simultaneously experience social and economic exclusions that drive them into unemployment and poverty.

 Although there is now a profusion of work engaging with the informality of African cities, and growing concern about youth’s place within it, new thinking is required on urban mobility.  Many reviews highlight issues of youth exclusion and its gendered dimensions. However, transport continues to be an understudied facet of this exclusion. Indeed, young women are discriminated against widely with regards to access to safe spaces in cities. This is particularly evident with regard to their access and use of transport, which in turn affects their access to skills acquisition and employment across all sectors. For instance, Adamu observed the negative impacts of shari’a-related campaigns to stop northern Nigerian women riding commercial motorcycle-taxis on their mobility and activities.

 Discrimination against women is also a key feature of quality employment within the transport sector itself. The two elements are inter-related since women’s lack of visibility as workers in the transport sector contributes to male dominance of transport and travel operations as well as both perceived and real women’s safety. It also partly accounts for transport planning which is both gender blind and gender-biased. Getting young women into more meaningful, higher status employment in the transport sector, and into using transport modes more effectively, are crucial to addressing inequality (and the resulting social exclusion, poverty and diminished health of women). This objective requires relevant skills acquisition, at an early age, to enable women to break through such barriers. 

It is within this framework that Durham University launched the ESRC-funded Action Research project titled “Youth engagement and skills acquisition within Africa’s transport sector: promoting a gender agenda towards transitions into meaningful work.” The project’s core objective is to help disadvantaged girls and young women obtain improved access to transport (both as users and workers/employees) and in turn increase their opportunities for obtaining meaningful paid work.  

 This research focuses on young women living in peripheral locations of three major African city regions: Cape Town (South Africa), Abuja (Nigeria) and Tunis (Tunisia). Set in very diverse country contexts, these city regions are among the more dynamic parts of their respective national economies and hence continue to attract migration from young people seeking work. This city selection offers an opportunity to explore impacts on transport practices of three very different cultural, socio-economic and political environments. While each city region has relatively high employment potential, by comparison with other parts of their respective country, youth employment for the majority of those resident in the city peripheries (common location of recent migrants and low-income families) is typically in precarious, poorly paid, informal sector work. For young women, opportunities are particularly sparse and tend to revolve around petty trade, food processing and service activities such as hairdressing, plus agriculture in rural sites.

The wider project team, comprising researchers from Tunisia, Durham University, the University of Cape Town, Usmanu Danfodiyo University (Sokoto, Nigeria), and Transaid, met in Tunis for an inception meeting in February. The meeting served to kick off the 27-month project and agree on a timeline for activities.

 Currently, country research teams are setting out to understand the nature and scale of gender inequalities shaped by everyday transport sector practices and the implications for young women’s skills acquisition and employment prospects within and beyond the transport sector. In order to do so, two research sites will be selected in each city region, a peri-urban and a rural site, both connected to the city centre by public transport and employment. Ultimately, this research will inform pilot interventions, led by partner organization Transaid through training and capacity building, to develop young women’s skills as users and workers in the transport sector.

 A key early project activity is the training of six local young women from each country to equip them with the skills required to contribute to research efforts in their communities. These training workshops are planned for March in Tunis, March/April in Abuja, and April in Cape Town. This is in line with a co-production approach embedded in this project, which foregrounds young women’s voices, including through co-investigation.

 Whilst acknowledging the constraints of structural conditions, the project focuses on the agency of young women themselves, specifically in developing their own skills to maximise opportunities within that ecology and, through participation, to bring about change from below.























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