Utilizing Mixed-Methods Research to Examine Public Transportation Use by Gender in Kenya


The Cal Poly Digital Transformation Hub (DxHub) powered by Amazon Web Services (AWS) collaborated with Cal Poly faculty and students and the World Bank’s Transport Group to examine variations in mobility patterns and public transportation use by gender in Nairobi, Kenya. Population growth, rapid motorization, and urbanization have resulted in significant traffic congestion in Nairobi. However, efforts to expand existing transportation options and create new forms of mass public transportation have happened without consideration of how men and women use public transportation differently. Likewise, public sector research efforts have not explored the factors that may lead to differences. Without this information, it is difficult to redesign inclusive public transportation services and policy, which in its current state limit individual and collective social and economic opportunity.


The World Bank Transport Group aims to support the expansion of safe, sustainable, efficient, and inclusive mobility. Transportation provides a crucial link among nations and people to jobs, markets, and vital services such as healthcare and education. To the extent that access is shared across populations, it has the potential to improve the lives and livelihoods of billions of people around the world. However, in Kenya, very little data has been collected to identify differences in the ways men and women use transportation. Among the limited data available, little had been examined by gender. That’s important because violence against women and girls is a serious problem in Kenya with 32 and 66 percent of females aged 18 to 24 reporting at least one experience of sexual or physical violence respectively prior to age 18.[1]

[1] United Nations Childrens Fund Kenya Country Office DoVP, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. Violence against Children in Kenya: Findings from a 2010 National Survey. Summary Report on the Prevalence of Sexual, Physical and Emotional Violence, Context of Sexual Violence, and Health and Behavioral Consequences of Violence Experienced in Childhood. 2012.

To address this issue, Cal Poly student teams, under the advisement of multidisciplinary faculty members and the DxHub team, employed sophisticated analytical techniques to examine data from three separate transportation surveys. Using an embedded mixed-methods research approach, where qualitative focus group and open-ended survey response data are nested within a larger quantitative examination of three survey and GIS data sources, they asked:

  1. Are women’s travel patterns different from men’s?
  2. Which factors, if any, influence women’s travel patterns and needs?


To better utilize and integrate these varied data sources, the DxHub assigned two teams of Cal Poly students and multidisplinary experts to the challenge. The first team consisted of data science students who conducted technical, statistical analyses of all existing survey data to investigate the ways in which the different surveys could (and could not) inform each other. They conducted exhaustive analyses within and across the surveys with careful attention to the statistical significance of their analyses, and limitations and inconsistencies across the surveys. The second team was interdisciplinary and consisted of two applied math students, one industrial engineering student, a faculty expert in GIS analysis from Cal Poly, and a gender studies scholar. One applied math student conducted a GIS analysis of existing data to provide insights on mobility patterns by gender, focusing on the slum regions of Nairobi. The other applied math student focused on identifying how women move about Nairobi as they seek out education and healthcare resources. The industrial engineering student examined the qualitative focus group and open-ended response data for themes across the data sources, and developed hundreds of graphics to demonstrate these patterns. The gender studies expert provided insights that helped to frame the analysis from a gender-conscious perspective. The World Bank team members worked closely with these two teams to continually provide feedback and direction.


Two main themes emerged from the analysis of these surveys, indicating that travel differences by gender are influenced by 1) gender norms and 2) violence. First, both the qualitative and quantitative data suggested that gender roles and cultural norms significantly shape the ways in which women’s travel differs from men’s in Nairobi. For example, divisions of labor result in women traveling more for household-related activities. However, while critical to family functioning, household-related labor is not currently considered in transportation planning. Income variations also influence transportation use, particularly for low-income women. The analysis found that women travel shorter distances and spend less time on travel, restricting their access to opportunities that may improve socioeconomic circumstances. Lastly, women’s much greater vulnerability to sexual violence and harassment, particularly when combined with limitations related to gender norms and divisions of labor, impacts their options and decision making about local travel.

These findings were included in a final report, which is owned and has been adopted by the Government of Kenya. The findings included in this report directly informed a series of new policy recommendations to enhance the gender-responsiveness of the transportation system in Nairobi, and supported a call for more data and research into transportation issues by gender.

Special thanks to Cal Poly students Lukas Angelo Dakhlia, Daniel DeFoe, Brooke Hanna, Sawyer Koelsch, Kyle Reavis, and Laila Trusso Zaidi and Cal Poly faculty Dr. Miran Day, Dr. Alexander Dekhtyar, Dr. Hunter Glanz, Dr. Joyce Lin, as well as Dr. Kirsten Rambo from ASISTA Immigration Assistance for their contribution to the report.

Supporting Documents

Final Paper This final report was authored by Lukas Dakhlia.
Final Paper This document was coauthored by Daniel DeFoe, Brooke Hanna and Kyle Reavis. 
Final Paper This document was authored by Laila Zaidi.

About the DxHub

Cal Poly’s Digital Transformation Hub (DxHub) was one of the earliest collaborations between Amazon Web Services (AWS) and an educational institution focused on innovation and digital transformation. While providing students with real-world learning experiences, the DxHub applies proven innovation methodologies in combination with the deep subject matter expertise of the public sector and the technical expertise of AWS to solve challenging problems in ways not contemplated before. For more information, visit dxhub.calpoly.edu.