By Nita Bhalla
NAIROBI, May 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – With their
manicured nails, immaculate make-up and matching handbags and
stilettos, you would be forgiven for mistaking the five women
seated in the cafe of the upscale Nairobi hotel for a group of
senior female executives.
Sipping white hot chocolate from delicate porcelain cups,
they discuss their long working hours, challenges in finding
time with their children, and share strategies on networking and
dealing with difficult clients.
But these Kenyan women aren’t company directors, finance
professionals or corporate lawyers – they are part of a new
breed of women who are breaking into the male-dominated taxi
sector and hitting Nairobi’s roads as e-cabbies.
“Taxi driving is not something I would have considered
before, but after driving for a taxi app service, I think it’s a
really good job for women,” said Lydia Muchiri, 29, in a
knee-length fitted white dress with floral print.
“It’s convenient, easy and safe – much better than sitting
at home and depending on handouts,” she said, as the other
women, in their 20s and 30s, nodded in agreement.
As taxi-hailing apps mushroom to fill a hole in Nairobi’s
poor public transport system, rising numbers of women are taking
up jobs as drivers – citing benefits such as flexible working
hours, the ability to select passengers, and guaranteed payment.
Online women cabbies currently only make up around 3 percent
of city’s estimated 12,000 e-taxi drivers – but industry
officials say their numbers are growing exponentially.
Little Cabs – one of Nairobi’s popular ride-sharing
platforms, and the only app offering riders the choice of a male
or female driver – has witnessed a 13-fold increase in the
number of women drivers over the last two years.
“There were 27 women drivers registered with Little Cabs
when we first started in June 2016, now there are 381. We aim to
have 1,000 women drivers by the end of this year,” said
Jefferson Aluda, operations manager for Little Cabs.
“Many people think taxi driving is a man’s job, but that
view is changing. Customers tell us that women are careful
drivers and very professional. Through our recruitment
campaigns, we expect more women to join.”
DRIVING WOMEN TO EMPOWERMENT
Kenya’s economy has grown on average by 5 percent annually
over the last decade, but the benefits have not been equally
distributed – and women remain disadvantaged socially,
economically and politically.
Women make up only a third of the 2.5 million people
employed in the formal sector and own only 1 percent of
agricultural land, according to the Kenya National Bureau of
Despite global criticism that the sharing economy lowers
wages, encourages tax evasion and provides little protections to
users, the emergence of platforms such as taxi-hailing apps in
Kenya are in fact helping to empower women.
In the last three years, at least a dozen e-cab apps have
launched to meet the demands of a growing smartphone-armed
middle class seeking an affordable and safer alternative to the
city’s reckless overcrowded matatus, or minivans.
Drivers earn a minimum of 30 Kenyan shillings ($0.30) per
minute and companies take up to 25 percent their earnings, but
women drivers still welcome the opportunity provided by firms
such as Uber, Taxify, Little Cabs and Pewin.
Minus the company fee, fuel and car rental costs, drivers
working 12 hours daily can earn on average 60,000 shillings
($600) in a month, say industry sources.
Faridah Khamis, a single mother of five children, decided to
become an online taxi driver in February last year after
chatting with a male driver who encouraged her to apply.
“The rates are low and I have to work 12 hours daily – when
my children are at school and at night when they are asleep. But
it’s better money than an office job these days,” said the
36-year-old women standing beside her silver Mazda Axela.
“I also think it’s very safe for women. I choose when I
work, where I work, and which clients I work with. If I was a
regular taxi driver, I would be on the roads looking for
passengers. The app means I can find customers from my home.”
The women choose riders with higher ratings and opt for
locations in populated rather than isolated areas. Their
companies also track them via GPS and they have an alert/SOS
button on their apps for support if they need help.
NOT ALWAYS A SMOOTH RIDE
Uber officials say ride-sharing apps can provide a great
economic opportunity for women, particularly in developing
nations such as Kenya.
“We think apps like Uber can help break down global,
structural barriers that keep women from fully participating in
the economy,” Uber’s East Africa spokeswoman Janet Kemboi told
the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“These include social biases, security risks, financial and
digital inclusion, and access to vehicles and other assets.”
But it’s not always a smooth ride for Kenya’s female
e-cabbies. They occasionally face discrimination and abuse –
from difficulties renting cars due to biased perceptions that
women are bad drivers, to fending off drunken male passengers.
And with their phone numbers accessible to customers through
the app, the women also endure daily “follow-up calls” from
former customers who want to date them after the trip is over.
The female cabbies say they also face sexist comments where
people perceive them to be sex workers simply because they are
well-dressed, working at night, and doing a “man’s job”.
But such instances are rare, say the women drivers, and
working in the taxi sector has inspired some of them to one day
have their own fleet of taxis – for women driven by women.
“There is a demand for women taxi drivers. Customers
appreciate our appearance and professionalism. Some say we drive
safer and our cars are cleaner than male drivers,” said Muchiri.
“We take pride in ourselves and in our job. We are no less
than someone who works in an office. We see our car as our
office and believe that once we are in the car, we must behave
like a professional.”
($1 = 100.5000 Kenyan shillings)
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Claire Cozens
and Katy Migiro. (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation,
the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate
change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)