For men, women and children, travel around and through Ugandan cities is dominated by minibuses, motorcycle taxis and walking. However, gender roles and differences in priorities and values mean that the travel needs of women and men can differ significantly. Recently, interviews conducted by WRI Africa in the town of Fort Portal, Uganda revealed how different these experiences can be.
While the three predominant modes of transport – minibuses, motorcycle taxis and walking – offer very different types of service, each presents significant barriers to equal access in the newly declared bustling city.
Why Gender Matters
In Uganda, gender roles prescribe women as mothers and market vendors (among other things) and make them primarily responsible for childcare and domestic chores. This means that women are particularly responsible for taking children to school and hospital, and when women go to work, they do not have the same luxury as men to leave children at home. Men generally spend their days working or looking for work, which requires different modes of transport.
Preliminary data from a WRI survey conducted with the University of Michigan in the regional town of Fort Portal confirms this, showing that women accompany children on three times as many trips as men. In interviews, men talked about the burden of accompanying children on trips. Some men said they took modes that were easier for children to control, such as taxis and minibuses, while women said they took children on up to five times more trips on foot than men. The walks of women with children were also twice as long as those of men with children.
Taken together, these results indicate a significant gap between the needs of men and women. They also suggest that reforms that benefit women will also benefit children. These include improved sidewalks and pathways, street lighting and reduced fares for children on public transport.
Barriers to inclusive travel for women
Even without being tasked with the task of babysitting, women face significant dangers when crossing city streets and suburban paths due to threats of theft, assault and sexual harassment. The effects of poor pavements and crime are felt by all pedestrians, but in Fort Portal, as in low-income towns in neighboring Kenya, working women are more likely to walk to work than men. men.
Women’s travel patterns in places like Fort Portal can also be influenced by historical injustices. In neighboring Bunyoro, women were required to have passes issued by village chiefs to leave their villages until the 1950s. This was the result of the colonial introduction of a cash crop economy , which led male farm workers to focus on cash-earning crops while household food production was left entirely to women. This, combined with the fear of starvation, forced women to stay home to produce food. Today, although these laws are long gone, women in Fort Portal still make far fewer trips than men outside the home, and a far greater proportion of them are on foot. .
A ride in a motorcycle taxi
The barriers and constraints faced by women travelers are also pervasive for the few women who work as Boda Boda motorbike taxi drivers, who would represent less than 1% of boda boda drivers in Uganda. Teddy Kabatoro, vice president of the Kabarole Women’s Boda Boda Rider and Farmer Association (KWBBRFA), has described in interviews how she started driving while selling food on the street at night and her male colleagues l encouraged to take it as a way to deliver food to customers. The male passengers initially avoided her, thinking she was not strong enough to ride a motorcycle. After a few months of night driving, Kabatoro suffered an attempted robbery and switched to day driving.
Kabatoro now generally avoids picking up passengers from the side of the road, instead relying on a list of clients with whom she has developed a relationship of trust and who give her steady work. Although she paid to join the male-dominated Kabarole Boda Boda Association (KBBA) in order to work, she said neither the KBBA nor municipal officials such as planners or engineers consult with the women’s group, the KWBBRFA. Interviews with the KBBA revealed that there were ubiquitous rumors that the government would give motorcycles to women free of charge, and many men expressed little desire to work together.
Many of the female KWBBRFA riders actually didn’t have motorcycles, not wanting to take the high-interest loans that many men take. According to interviews, the KWBBRFA has also encountered motorcycle owners who do not want to rent vehicles to women, as they claim that women are more susceptible to theft. More information on the situation of female boda boda carriers can be found in Moving to Growing Towns: Barriers to Accessibility in Fort Portal and Mbale.
Kabatoro’s story highlights a range of factors that shape women’s mobility here. The first is that men are often instrumental in both entry into the transport industry and continued participation. Funding is also a crucial issue for women’s entry into these businesses. Without vehicle owners willing to lend to female riders or at reasonable rates for motorcycle financing, entering the market remains difficult. We also find that women are at high risk of assault, creating barriers for more female drivers and passengers. Finally, women’s associations are not always engaged with informal male-dominated associations or government stakeholders, including physical planners and transport engineers.
Fortunately, there are organizations actively working to make the urban transport landscape more accessible to women in East Africa. The Flone Initiative, for example, was established in 2011 to tackle gender-based discrimination and violence on public transport in Kenya and has launched three projects. The Usalama wa Uma project has trained over 700 public transport providers to intervene to prevent sexual harassment and violence in the transport sector in Kenya. Report It Stop It, also in Kenya, is a crowd-mapping platform that allows witnesses and victims to report incidents of harassment and assault, providing data to support improved government responses and Civil society. Another project, in Uganda with UNFPA and SafeBoda, integrates GBV prevention tactics – including education on sexual and reproductive health issues – into an entry training program for new truck drivers. boda boda.
Women’s experiences of transport in Uganda are complex and can shape women’s accessibility to jobs, medical care and their overall well-being. Addressing issues from the perspective of passengers and operators can help policy makers, NGOs and community leaders better understand how to create a safer environment for women, children and all residents.
Thomas Courtright is an independent transport researcher based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Emmerentian Mbabazi is Project Specialist for Cities at WRI Africa, based in Kampala.
Anna Oursler is Urban Mobility Project Coordinator for WRI Africa, based in Kampala.