Long queues in the rain, daily four-hour journeys in a public taxi, the constant threat of road accidents and the fact that an aggressive male passenger almost had to use a pen as a knife.
These are just some of the challenges that Busisiwe Nongauza faced during the commute to and from her job as an insurance underwriter in Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa.
Nongauza, who lives in Soweto, the country’s largest municipality, is not alone in her experience.
A new study has shown that ‘transport poverty’ in sub-Saharan Africa – when inaccessible or unsuitable transport negatively affects a person’s quality of life – excessively affects women and girls in terms of harassment, schooling and access to work.
“Public transportation is not safe for women at all. We are powerless,” Nongauza, 48, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Unsafe transportation and harassment make it harder for women to work and for girls to get training
Transport poverty in Africa is linked to unplanned, informally developed urban areas that place vulnerable groups within city limits, according to a report by the Volvo Research and Educational Foundation (VREF), a research funding group in November.
As a result, people who have to go to the city center to work can experience long, expensive and often dangerous journeys, especially women traveling alone at night.
“This report comes at a critical juncture in the development of urban transport in Africa as the continent emerges from the COVID-19 crisis,” said Gina Porter, a senior researcher at Durham University in the UK, and one of the lead authors of the study said.
“It brings together for the first time knowledge about the needs and practices of transport users in African cities, with a specific focus on vulnerable groups,” she said in an email.
According to the report, 70% of the urban population in Africa lives in informal settlements.
The authors point to the transport challenges facing women in these settlements in dozens of African cities, including Tunis, Abuja and Cape Town.
According to the United Nations International Labor Organization, there is a lack of safe transportation to and from work, which is associated with almost 16% lower labor force participation for women in developing countries.
Transport poverty also has an effect on girls’ education, according to the VREF report.
“Girls have major barriers to travel, such as harassment and family restrictions related to the travel risks they perceive,” Porter said.
“Pubescent girls’ reduced access to secondary education … has a major impact on their potential opportunities in the labor market throughout their lives.”
Just over a quarter of South African women feel safe to walk at night, according to a 2019 index by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security that measured safety in 167 countries.
Nongauza said it was essential that his work be left before dark to avoid possible danger on the roads.
“I know of a woman who was raped by a taxi driver,” she said. “I know we have rights, but sometimes it feels like we don’t.”
The possible consequences of non-tackling transport poverty are social exclusion, increased poverty and inequality, says Karen Lucas, a professor of human geography at the University of Manchester, who co-authored the VREF study.
This applies not only to women and girls, but also to other vulnerable groups such as the elderly, people with disabilities and LGBT + people who may experience danger and discrimination on the roads, the report states.
“I have found it worrying that city plans and transportation policies in most cases ignore the mobility and accessibility needs of many people living in informal and slums,” Lucas said.
The South African Ministry of Transport was not available for comment.
The study calls on governments and the private sector to urgently engage with residents, transport unions and rights groups to better understand the transport needs in their cities.
Lucas noted, for example, that authorities need to improve the convenience and safety of travel to, from and within the evening market, and introduce measures such as elevated sidewalks with built-in space for street sales.
“It’s about working with other sectors such as housing, health, education, community development and welfare to work together to solve the problems of immobility and inaccessibility and not just provide more transport,” she said.
(Reported by Kim Harrisberg @ Kim Harrisberg; Edited by Jumana Farouky and Zoe Tabary. Recognize the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charity arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http: //news.trust.org)