Women in rural roads: recommendations for a second generation of interventions

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Photo: Guillermo Barrios del Valle/Flickr
In the Andean mountain range in the province of Arequipa, women can be found working on rural road maintenance projects.

Meanwhile, back in the capital, members of Peru’s local and national government, as well as representatives from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, gathered in Lima at the “Experiences of Women in Rural Roads” conference to discuss the role of women in the transport sector.

The event highlighted women’s participation in rural road construction and maintenance as a significant step toward gender equality: it gave participants a chance to discuss the impact of these projects, share lessons learned, and inform a Gender Action Plan for the ongoing Support to the Subnational Transport Program. Indigenous women from rural communities in in Arequipa, Junín, Huánuco, and the Amazon attended the event and emphasized the importance of these projects in the development of their communities and the role of these employment opportunities in their own lives, their self-esteem, and their aspirations for a better future.

Since 2001, the World Bank Group (WBG) and the Peruvian government have worked together to promote women’s participation in rural transport projects, expanding employment opportunities for women in rural areas. The Peru Decentralized Rural Transport Project has seen the female participation in rural road maintenance microenterprises reach almost 30%.

There are many positive effects of women’s participation in these projects: non-traditional job and income generating opportunities; change of social norms regarding women’s roles; more networking and mentorship activities; greater decision-making power within the household; contribution to poverty reduction derived from more investment at the household level; improved sense of self-confidence and leadership; and increased aspirations for personal development.

Yet while there is progress, there are also challenges.

When considering Gender Action Plans for transport projects, a few contextual challenges related to gender roles and stereotypes should be taken into consideration.
  • Violence within the home: Women have cited challenges such as resistance from husbands and increased incidences of violence both at home and in the workplace, potentially in response to the changing status of women.
  • Double work burden: Even when they take demanding jobs, many women are still considered responsible for the bulk of household and family care duties. As women’s traditional roles change, men’s do not necessarily keep up.
  • Criticism from community members: Some women face prejudice when entering traditionally male public spheres.
  • Gender-specific segregation of tasks: In similar rural roads programs in Nicaragua, in which women’s participation reached 46% under the Rural Road Infrastructure Improvement Project, women reported they did not have the opportunity to  take on what was perceived to be “men-only” jobs, such as laying heavy cobblestones. Women were typically given “lighter” or “clean” tasks like administrative duties and traffic signaling.
These issues show there is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to promoting gender equality in the transport sector. While projects so far have mostly sought to create new employment opportunities for rural women, and have done so successfully, we have learned that we need a more comprehensive approach that can address at least five key priorities:
  • Women’s barriers to participation
  • Women’s challenges in the workplace
  • Women’s decision-making capacity during program participation
  • Interinstitutional coordination
  • Sustainability of gender approaches
It is time to take the gender approach in rural transport a step beyond ‘just’ job creation: we need to consider systematically where gender matters throughout project design, implementation, and results monitoring.

This includes looking at issues related to: gender norms prevalent in communities, women’s participation in public decision-making, women’s firm ownership and the competitiveness of women’s firms, along with the recruitment strategies that are meant to encourage women’s participation. We must also identify which competitive skills women are missing, what norms discourage their participation in rural works, and what constraints hinder their involvement. Moreover, projects must have proper mechanisms in place to prevent and respond to gender-based violence. In addressing these, policy-makers and project managers can assess how risks can be prevented and mitigated and, in turn, develop a proper response mechanism.

Institutional capacity is another area that requires attention if we want to adequately address macro-level challenges including structural and legal constraints on gender equality.  There is more work to be done in fostering capacity building within the ministries and municipalities, and making sure more women can progress in their careers in the transport sector (both in the public and private branches) to the same extent as men. The legislation needs to be carefully reviewed as well to make sure procurement rules do not impose unrealistic requirements that would put local women’s microenterprises at an unfair disadvantage when they compete against larger companies.

Many of these issues are not exclusive to transport. The solutions don’t have to be, either: the provision of adequate childcare services, for instance, is a measure that can create more favorable working conditions for women across all sectors and needs an interagency perspective. Multilateral organizations have an important part to play here, as their convening power puts them in a unique position to bring all relevant stakeholders around the same table and define common solutions.

Ultimately, these efforts to boost female participation will not only help change social norms and empower women but also enhance the overall efficiency of rural transport projects—yet another example of how sustainable development and gender inclusion are, in so many ways, just two sides of the same coin!

This blog benefited from comments from Brittany M. Walters, Sofia Guerrero, Stephen Muzira, Irene Portabales and Sevara Melibaeva.


Miriam Muller

Senior Social Scientist with the Poverty Global Practice at the World Bank

Farima Alidadi

Consultant, World Bank

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