News from Transaid: Inspiring women to take charge of their own health and increasingly their own transport

Update from Caroline Barber, Head of Programmes, Transaid

africa woman on bicycleThe organisation I work for (Transaid) were involved in an initiative to train female drivers and transport officers from a cooperative in Accra so that they could manage the transport of agricultural products to market themselves. This was back in 2007/2008. The programme had some success but there were a number of challenges, for example perceived issues of security for women drivers on long distance vehicles, the carrying capacity of the vehicles (which were sourced as a donation) were also probably too small to really drive down the transport costs enough. In time some of the coops decided to turn the vehicles into tro tros (mini bus taxis and hire men to drive them).

So we had lots of learning, but I have wondered recently with huge influx of mobile phones in the last decade (that would support with security but also coordination of loads and importantly backloads) how much more effective the initiative could have been if implemented now.

I also wanted to share some interesting developments on the “Emergency Transport Schemes” (ETS) we have been involved in. We are working on a programme called MORE MAMaZ in Zambia (focusing on mobilising access to maternal health services in five districts) and funded by Comic Relief/DFID. Working with Health Partner’s International, Development Data and Disacare the programme is a follow on the original MAMaZ programme. We have a range of Intermediate Modes of Transport based on what communities already use, accept culturally, can maintain and that are suitable for the terrain.

In Mongu in Western Zambia where there is deep sand we use ox and carts. In an interesting development from the first phase we now have a number of female ETS ox and cart operators. They are not just taking women to health facilities during labour but taking groups of women for ANC/PNV visits and also to mother’s waiting homes in some instances.

In Serenje we have one female bicycle ambulance rider who took two women in labour at the same time on her bicycle ambulance – one lady in the trailer and one actually on a the parcel rack. Clearly not the most comfortable way to travel but if there was no other choice… When we started the original programme people told us that women are not strong enough to operate the transport, or they can’t travel alone. Clearly someone forgot to tell this remarkable female ETS rider who did it anyway!

In Madagascar we are working on a USAID funded programme, known locally as MAHEFA and implemented by JSI. Again we have seen some communities in the north east have selected female riders – we are using wheeled stretchers where the terrain is mountainous or challenging. In a recent review we were told that the women in some communities are more active as the stretcher carriers, that they coordinate with the women and children and take them to facilities when need.

Here’s to these inspiring women talking charge of their own health and increasingly their own transport !

Best wishes


Caroline Barber
Head of Programmes

Transaid – transport for life, 137 Euston Road, London, NW1 2 AA.
Tel +44 (0) 20 7387 8136, Fax +44 (0) 20 7387 2669

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