Embracing equity in transport the Global South

TRL’s mission as a social purpose enterprise is to make transport better for everyone. Our most impactful work often occurs when we support countries in the Global South, generally Low- and Middle-Income Countries, to improve the safety of their roads. Roads are like veins providing oxygen for communities to connect and thrive. A bridge, a reliable bus service, a controlled pedestrian crossing can be life savers.

Published on 16 May 2023

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TRL is a world leader in transport safety and has developed products and expert services that have been proven to analyse, minimise and prevent road collisions.   


To raise awareness of Global Road Safety Week, TRL will be posting a series of blogs written by our in-house experts, focusing on topics that relate to a future in which transport is safe for everyone.   


TRL’s mission as a social purpose enterprise is to make transport better for everyone. Our most impactful work often occurs when we support countries in the Global South, generally Low- and Middle-Income Countries, to improve the safety of their roads. Roads are like veins providing oxygen for communities to connect and thrive. A bridge, a reliable bus service, a controlled pedestrian crossing can be life savers.   


Three TRL road safety consultants, Nancy Abira, Angela Fuller-Dapaah and Linda Masibo, with first-hand experience of living and working in LMICs have been considering how equity must play a role in Road safety strategy. 


Transport is a derived demand, yet gender inequality permeates all forms of transport all over the world, ignoring the demands of half the population: women. It is often spoken about; the gender disparities are unpacked; disparate efforts at changes are proposed - yet a comprehensive solution for eliminating inequalities has not materialised. It is my observation – says Angela - that transport system designers mainly consider the travel needs of half of the world’s population (men). There is little evidence that these designers have stopped to ask: How would you manage shopping or a carrying a baby in public transport? Whether you would still make that trip if it meant walking close to high-speed roads with limited pedestrian facilities? How safe and secure would you feel while walking these roads at night? If you are a woman (and particularly if you are a woman in the Global South) it is more than likely that these questions are at best a daily concern, and at worst a real impediment to daily survival. 


I see a strong consensus that access to safe, affordable, and sustainable transportation is strongly tied to economic development in towns, cities and states. But I would ask you to pause and consider the role of gender in that development goal. Until the needs of women are understood and accommodated in the design of transportation systems, very little progress will be made on the highly relevant sustainable goals of maternal healthcare, girl-child-education, and better jobs for women.  

I’ve seen close up how the fast-changing urban landscapes in cities in the Global South are redefining how people travel. Rapid urbanization and economic growth have made many cities, such as Accra in Ghana, sprawl in an unplanned manner with high dependence on access to the core of the city. Commuters are forced to make longer journeys and are captive to motorised transport.

Public transport is the backbone of this commute and is supplemented by taxis and powered two or three wheelers. Typically, hailing a trotro in Ghana for a 1.5km journey will cost about GHC 3, while in India this will cost 25 rupees on a rickshaw, and 50 shillings for a boda-boda trip in Nairobi. For high income earners these may be inconsequential sums, but this could constitute more than 20% of the cost of living for low-income earners. Indeed, the poorer you are, the more you feel the toll of transport costs. Costs aside, public transport is also often associated with informal arrangements and as such, unreliable services, poor vehicle conditions, overcrowding, unfair service distribution and inconsistent fares. None of which increases the attraction of public transport to users. 
This is not acceptable. I believe it is because those involved in making critical transport planning decisions fall primarily into the category of those who can afford to own and use private cars. Key infrastructure development is therefore shaped around solutions that avoid dependence on public, shared transport. Governments invest copious amounts to build mega infrastructure like elevated corridors and four lane divided roads that cut right through the hearts of cities - promising to reduce journey times! Such economic development benefits higher income groups but ultimately, will not deliver the sustainable development craved by the masses. 
A report on gender travel in South Africa showed that, while just over a 10% of women used personal vehicles as their main mode of transport, as much as 31.7% of men drove (Maluleke, 2021). The compounding factors of relatively low wages, work in the informal sector, unpaid care duties and lower literacy levels push women to be captive users of public transport systems, informal taxis, walking or cycling. Put simply, fewer women can afford a car in the Global South. 
But this is only part of the issue, continues Nancy. How women travel differs greatly from men. It is more common to find women making multiple stops in a journey to undertake care-giving activities such as visiting sick relatives, the school run and shopping, in addition to their daily work trips; whereas men usually make simple home-work-home trips. This emphasizes the need for flexible and integrated transport modes. Due to their care-giving duties, women often travel accompanied by other individuals (e.g. children, elderly relatives) and goods (e.g. shopping, wares), therefore requiring more space and affordable fares. Unfortunately, the physical design of many tro-tro and danfos makes this option impractical, on top of which all passengers have to pay the same amount regardless of their transport needs. These factors fundamentally influence women’s travel decisions. 
The result is that most women walk everywhere. I’ve seen this for myself all over Africa, backed up by studies, and it never fails to shock. 81% of trips in Dakar, 70% in Addis Ababa, 60% in Bamako and Niamey, 47% in Nairobi, and 42% in Ouagadougou are made on foot (Amoako, Cobbinah and Naming-Beka, 2014). Worse still, in these counties where women walk for miles every day because they have to, the infrastructure for pedestrians is often ill provided and maintained. The dangers of navigating cities on foot for women is compounded with concerns of sexual harassment, or for their physical safety. And these are not just short walks, they are long journeys created by poorly connected transport links. There are increasingly concerted efforts towards modal shift in many global south countries. Despite this, more efforts are still needed to make meaningful modal shift a reality. 


I’ve seen women in Dhaka struggle between concrete barriers, precariously balancing on the narrow median for a gap in traffic to run across the road. I’ve watched a woman in Kampala, carrying a load on her head, a child in tow, raising her hand at a zebra crossing for traffic to let up to allow her safe passage. Such flagrantly poor transport system design leads me to the inevitable conclusion that it could only have been designed by a man.   

Now would be the perfect point to discuss the gender pay gap and equal opportunities for women in the Global South, but we will leave those topics for others. Today we are focussed on what inequality means in a transport context and how to encourage a more inclusive future of transport. “Put more women in charge!” Yes, but short of a revolution, how do we do that? 
It is clear, says Linda, without equity in the board rooms, there cannot be equity on the road. Women make up half the population and yet they are underrepresented in decision making spheres. Africa has actually made good progress in this area with 25% female representation at board level in companies compared to the global average of about 17% (Moodley, et al.,2019). Despite this, there is still a long way to go, and the challenge is not confined to developing nations. 
In the UK, women make 47% of the national workforce, but account for a paltry 20% of the workforce in transport (Women in Transport, UK). In Kenya, women’s representation on Boards of the major transport authorities accounts for 16%, with only 2 of the nine chairs of the Boards being women. These Boards are the main vehicles that drive the vision of transport in country and guide decisions on transport investments, and women are glaringly absent! 
What we really need is more women working in the transport sector, to work their way through the ranks and break through the glass ceilings. And there are many initiatives striving to make this so. It is an uncomfortable truth that the burden of proof for women is too weighty; and by this we mean proof of competence for women working in transport, proof of the need for women to use transport, and the proof of women’s economic contribution to society. 
Nancy, Linda and Angela are of one voice: We must deconstruct the conscious and unconscious biases we hold as a global society, even as women, and lean towards a level burden of proof. The first step is to remember and acknowledge that women are not a minority group. It is imperative that the whole population equally benefits from transport and mobility systems. We agree wholeheartedly with the author of this blog who argues that the continued discrimination of women is holding back the Global South from making good investment decisions (World Bank, 2022). 
As the world continues to reimagine transport and improve mobility systems, we cannot simply forget about half of us. This is our vision for tomorrow’s transport, but today, we celebrate everyone working to make transport safe, sustainable, and accessible for all. 


To find out more about UN Global Road Safety week visit   7th UN Global Road Safety Week (who.int) and check out TRL’s social media for the next blog  


If you would like to learn more about the work TRL is undertaking to make roads safer for all, drop us a line at info@TRL.co.uk

About the authors 

Nancy Abira 

Nancy is a registered engineer with 12 years’ experience in highway engineering, transportation, and road safety. She has worked in establishing road safety management systems and institutions in Kenya, Uganda, and Bangladesh and also worked in Nepal, Fiji, Ghana, Nigeria, and India, on projects ranging from establishing the institutional framework for road safety management, development of road safety manuals, road safety audits and inspections, road safety engineering, speed management and crash database management. She currently sits as an alumni trainer and contributor to the Delft Road Safety Course (Netherlands). She is an experienced Road Safety Auditor and registered with the engineers board of Kenya. 

Angela Fuller-Dapaah 


Angela holds an MSc in Transport Planning from the Institute of Transport Studies, University of Leeds (UK). She is a transport planner with experience in road safety and speed management. She has worked with international institutions and road safety stakeholders in Ghana to prepare road safety plans, evaluate transport strategies, conduct feasibility studies, and undertake risk assessment of vulnerable road users.  


Linda Masibo 


Linda holds a degree in Civil Engineering and a Master of Transportation Sciences, Road Safety in the Global South. She works towards safer roads in her work. Additionally, she advocates for safe and sustainable mobility. Linda has worked in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and in Belgium and brings a particular interest in road safety education to her role as a road safety consultant at TRL. 

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