An Unbalanced Load: women, men and transport

issue gender

Even though transport professionals are increasingly aware of the social dimension of transport, there is still a fundamental lack of awareness and inclusion of the gender-differentiated impact of transport policy and provision. In general and especially in rural areas of developing countries, women and girls spend more time and effort on transport (due to household chores such as fetching water and firewood), have less access to public services (including health), face greater safety and security risks while travelling, and have less control over resources. In addition women have less access to use different types of transport such as wheel barrows, motor cycles and/or other Intermediate Means of Transport.

In Tanzania, for example women spend four times as much time on transport-related tasks than men do. By improving mobility and accessibility and reducing the transport burden for women this ‘time poverty’ may be reduced and women and girls can free time for education, health, social activities and income-generation.

More specifically, accessibility to health care plays a key role for women, particularly access to obstetric services including pre-, peri- and post-natal care. The “three delays” model developed by Thaddeus and Maine (1994) identifies key time periods in peri-natal complications during which delays can occur that have direct consequences for maternal and child survival. The first delay is the decision to seek health care, the second the accessibility of the health care service and the last delay occurs in the quality of the health service. Although not directly specified, transportation for the mobility of pregnant women is clearly a key component of the three delays model. Travel costs and inadequate transport infrastructure, combined with poverty and distance from health care facilities are implicit in two of the three factors affecting health service utilisation and provision. These in turn impact upon all three phases of delay identified as determinants of maternal and neonatal survival, from the initial decision to seek medical care, through identification of and arrival at a health care facility to finally receiving timely and appropriate care.

Key knowledge gaps:

  • Even though there are isolated gender-disaggregated transport data there is still a big need to collect disaggregated data in a systematic way through for example including transport and access questions in the census, national household travel survey, or national demographic and health surveys.
  • There is a lack of quantitative data on women’s access to IMTs, as well as a lack of detailed travel patterns available for women especially in rural areas. Overall but especially in Latin America more research is needed on gender and transport issues.
  • Where solid gender-disaggregated transport data does exist it is often not visible for decision-makers and not used to its full potential. A gender and transport atlas could demonstrate the complexity of issues surrounding gendered mobility and access and the importance of quantitatively documenting and visualizing the situation on an international scale.
  • There is a lack of good impact and evaluation studies in those countries where gender mainstreaming has occurred in the transport policy and/or implementation level. A solution could be to design a system of gender audits to ensure that good engendered policy is translated into actions on the ground

Improved transport accessibility to health care and attended births (including emergency transport), maternal and child mortality rates can be reduced helping to achieve MDGs 4 and 5. This is an important benefit from improved rural transport infrastructure, often stated by poor women in isolated communities as a reason to invest in, for example, rural roads.

Experience from many countries also shows that girls’ school enrolment in particular, is dependent on transport and infrastructure development:

  • Girls generally have to take on a greater part of the household work. With improved accessibility more time can be put aside for education.
  • It is common for a family to be worried to let their daughters walk far on their own. As soon as road accessibility is good enough to allow for bicycles at least, then the enrolment of girls is likely to increase. Experience in Morocco, for example, has shown that thanks to good accessible roads, girls’ enrolment in school increased to 68% from 28% before the programme.

Conversation about the gendered nature of transport planning and provision has continued since the early nineties. Despite this, gender issues are still rarely prioritised in transport investments, women continue to have less access to time saving household transport technologies than men, and gender relations often reinforce women’s time poverty and external immobility. For example in China the national gender machinery includes 24 ministries and five civil society organisations but does not include the Ministry of Transport. Ten years on from the World Bank first highlighting women’s unequal transport burden, a combination of gender relations and low purchasing power has been demonstrated to still restrict women’s equal access to transport modes in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Tanzania and Zambia. Gender and transport researchers also point to women’s mobility being restricted by their lack of ‘power to choose’. Where gender-mainstreaming in transport has occurred in the enabling policy environment, it is often not translated in practice and/or good evaluation and impact data are missing.

Addressing gender equity and women’s empowerment in transport is contingent not just on investment in transport and roads. It hinges upon the commitment of governments and transport agencies to mainstream gender into their planning and implementation; the degree to which they are able or willing to address women’s time poverty; their lack of access to affordable transport technologies and ultimately the gender relations that exacerbate all these barriers to female mobility.



Contact Person: Peter Njenga
Position: Executive Director and Coordinator East and Southern Africa
Tel/Fax: +254 (20) 883323
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