Title page for ETD etd-06042004-104050

Document Type Doctoral Thesis
Author Mahapa, Sabina Mammelane
URN etd-06042004-104050
Document Title Spatial and social exclusion : travel and transport needs of rural women in Limpopo, South Africa
Degree DPhil
Department Geography, Geo-Informatics and Meteorology
Advisor Name Title
Prof U J Fairhurst
Dr M de Waal Committee Co-Chair
  • patriarchy
  • rural transport
  • practical needs
  • strategic needs
  • reproductive role
  • social role
  • productive role
  • social exclusion
  • spatial exclusion
  • gender mainstreaming
Date 2003-10-09
Availability unrestricted
There is a considerable body of literature on the transportation activities of rural households. Still, efforts to address rural women's specific travel and transport needs have met with limited or no success. Because rural women are vulnerable members of society, their productive roles are sometimes not fully reflected in sector strategies. Considering how transport policies and projects address rural women's needs is important for socially and economically sustainable rural transport policy.

The main argument presented in this research is based on the expectations raised by the democratic elections of 1994 in South Africa. After the elections many people, particularly those in the rural areas, were expecting improvement in service delivery. However, ten years later, rural African women still face daunting challenges in terms of access to basic services. The main argument in this thesis is therefore that rural transport policy and plans in South Africa, as elsewhere, have failed to adequately address specific gender issues.

Since studies of this nature are complex, and the issues involved cannot be clearly understood from the outside, it is essential to have an inside perspective. The research, therefore, was not viewed simply as an abstract process of knowledge-seeking but as a means through which to acquire a more complete understanding of rural women's transport needs. Hence, a qualitative feminist approach was adopted, and a gendered perspective was followed in addressing the transport needs of rural women. Using a non-gendered perspective for studying patterns and processes of rural conditions would not only have provided an incomplete understanding of rural transport, but also would have constituted a disservice to efforts to generate an informed basis for rural women's emancipation.

Just as feminist research often draws on multiple disciplines, this study too draws on several: human geography, sociology and feminist methodology, in particular. Moreover, the use of multiple methods in this project, rather than a single method, was chosen not only because of its feminist concerns but also because of a commitment to thoroughness and the need to be responsive to the rural women studied. To this end, multiple research methods, such as participant observation, focus group discussions, document and photograph analysis, and photographs were used.

These methods made it possible to provide some insights into the roles of rural women and to their related travel and transport needs in the three villages studied in Limpopo: Mamoleka, Tshitwi and Babanana. The question of whether transport empowers or is disempowering rural women was addressed.

Three main themes emerged in this study. These themes suggest that rural women use the transport system in order to satisfy their multiple roles. Transport practitioners, however, provide transport facilities and services that are often characterised by constraints that create problems for these women and hence impact on their opportunities. Consequently, unresolved problems lead to opportunities denied. Therefore, policy makers should generate new strategies to address African rural women's transport needs.

One thing immediately apparent in reviewing the findings of this research is that gender biases in rural transport stem from the multiple roles that rural women perform in society and at home. Because the total workload of a rural household is rarely shared equally among its members, the burden of transport falls on women. Inadequate and inappropriate transport increases the amount of time necessary to perform their multiple roles, leaving rural women perform with little or no spare time to develop themselves by participating in socio-economic and political activities.

The burden of transport not only deprives rural women of participation in development activities, it also makes them lose out on opportunities to earn higher incomes and to improve their financial resources. Finally, because they already have limited financial resources and opportunities, they are unable to invest in personal means of transport, through which they might reduce their transport burden and improve their incomes.

A close linking of gender perspective and rural transport policy is proposed in order to improve rural transport systems and initiatives and to make them more gender-responsive and sustainable. Making rural transport policy more responsive to the needs of rural women requires developing a structural approach to understand their needs, identifying instruments to address those needs, and establishing an appropriate policy framework. To this end, this thesis identifies some approaches that would help in developing a gender-responsive rural transport policy through paying attention to rural women's travel and transport needs. These approaches include recognition of the need for an integrated rural transport policy, in which both transport and non-transport interventions applicable to addressing rural transport problems for self-employed and unemployed rural women, as found in Limpopo, are promoted. Furthermore, the need for awareness of rural women's multiple roles is outlined. What remains is the need for development of a comprehensive, gender-sensitive strategy in all fields of rural transport research, policy and projects to help explore ways of correcting existing biases in rural travel and transport for rural women.

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