Roads to inclusion in North Macedonia: Why does it matter?

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Sidewalks in Kumanovo, North Macedonia; Photo: Armend Becha
Sidewalks in Kumanovo are overtaken by cars and too narrow; Photo: Armend Becha

When building a road, there is an incorrect assumption that all users equally benefit from it. While some dimensions - such as gender and location - are increasingly considered in project design of road infrastructure and transport services, others - such as age or ethnicity - are less frequently explored, despite these also shaping mobility opportunities for millions of disadvantaged people.   

A helpful framework that considers multiple and overlapping identities that shape access to various opportunities for individuals and group is known as intersectionality. A World Bank roads project in North Macedonia is piloting the inclusion of this concept to address intersectionality at project design. The operation is benefiting from a recent study that assessed the needs and experiences of Roma women, Roma men, and non-Roma women with road infrastructure, public transport, and employment in the transport sector in two municipalities: Sveti Nikole and Kumanovo.

Why Roma, Gender and Transport Sector?

The Roma are the largest ethnic minority in Europe, as well as one of the most disadvantaged and socially excluded groups. At the same time, women (both Roma and non-Roma alike) tend to face different and/or more acute mobility barriers compared to men. Also, fewer women than men are employed in the transport and construction sectors: only 12.8 percent of women are employed in transport and storage, compared to 87.2 percent for their male counterparts, and just 6.6 percent of women are engaged in construction, compared to 93.4 percent for men.

Roma neighborhood Bavchi in Kumanovo near the town center; Photo: Armend Becha
Roma neighborhood Bavchi in Kumanovo near the town center

Photo: Armend Becha

What did we learn?

  • Roma communities are disproportionally impacted by inadequate transport infrastructure compared to non-Roma. As their settlements tend to be informal, they are not part of urban planning and, thus, excluded from the benefits of infrastructure investments. Roma participants in the recent study stated problems with inadequate roads and sewage systems in their settlements, which often face flooding during heavy rain. Some shared concerns about the challenges their children face in walking to school due to muddy roads and lack of asphalted sidewalks.
  • Women and men have different needs and preferences for road infrastructure and transport services. Women tend to rely on public transport more than men. When public transport is unavailable or unaffordable, women often travel by foot, and their multiple tasks often add to their travel time. These challenges are more pronounced for Roma women due to poorer road infrastructure in their neighborhoods. They also reported feeling much less safe than non-Roma in public spaces, which is likely influenced by both their ethnicity and gender.  
  • Roma and non-Roma women also face challenges in getting transport sector jobs, partly due to their perception that these jobs are unsuitable for women, as the sector is heavily male-dominated. For Roma women, this is further exacerbated by employer perceptions that they are not interested in working. Interestingly, Roma men were open to employment opportunities in the sector but noted that they are unaware of specific job announcements.

Tackling the challenges

The study identified two concrete entry points that the project will use to enhance mobility and employment opportunities for Roma and women, in general. One is providing grants to the selected municipalities to support investments identified by the communities to enhance their mobility and road safety. Traditionally-excluded groups, such as Roma men and women, will directly engage in drawing-up action plans to address some of their mobility needs. The second is to help increase the employment of Roma men, Roma women and non-Roma women in public works by adding a requirement in public procurement documents for the bidders to submit a Roma and Gender Action Plan where they will commit to employing these underrepresented groups.

As the recent protests around the world are demonstrating, the fight for racial justice and equality is universal. Additionally, as COVID-19 is impacting vulnerable groups the most, understanding their needs for public services and directing support accordingly is critical. The recovery phase of the pandemic must deliver sustainable and inclusive transportation services for a resilient post-pandemic recovery and this cannot be achieved without putting vulnerable groups at the front of transport planning.

Read about the “Assessment of Barriers and Opportunities Using Gender and Roma Lens in North Macedonia: Case of Transport” here.

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