This paper reflects on the experiences of women and girl children resident in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa with poor physical accessibility (to services and markets) because of poor roads and inadequate transport (in terms of regularity, reliability and cost). Examples from field research conducted in diverse agro-ecological and cultural contexts in western and southern Africa are used to explore the impacts of relative immobility and poor access to services on women and girls. Three themes are examined in some detail: access to education, access to health services and access to markets.
The contribution of low female mobility and broader transport failures to the maintenance of inter-generational cycles of poverty is a major theme of the paper. The paper reviews evidence regarding the extent to which road construction is able to counteract the negative effects of physical distance and time spent travelling to major markets and other services by women and girls in 'economically stagnant regions', the associated importance of low-cost, regular and reliable transport services, and the potential for Intermediate Means of Transport, including bicycles and motorcycles, to fill the transport gap where motorised services are poor. Non-transport interventions which can counteract remoteness and poor accessibility are also considered: in particular, the remarkable diffusion of mobile phones across Africa in the last few years and recent evidence of their growing impact in relatively remote areas, drawing on examples from Ghana and Malawi.
This paper was first presented at an international workshop on "Understanding and addressing spatial poverty traps" held near Cape Town on 29 March 2007. 20 pp.