To mark the recent international women’s day, Rwandan ride-hailing platform SafeMotos announced it had added the first female moto-drivers to its network.
Safemotos, a smartphone app that allows customers to order motorcycle taxis to their desired pickup location, has crowdsourced funding to help it find and train female moto-taxi drivers.
The company is also now in the process of developing a product that matches female customers with female drivers, with co-founder and CEO Barrett Nash saying western insurance companies have known that female drivers are safer for decades, while in Africa there is still often the misconception that many women cannot even drive.
“To many consumers, female motorcycle taxi drivers is laughable. However, SafeMotos is working with 35 female motorcycle taxi drivers to bust this misconception and what has been most startling is that it seems to be working,” he said.
“Most customers do not even recognise that the driver they take is even a female below the helmet. Some of the harshest misogynists have been having to eat humble pie.”
You could be forgiven for thinking, in spite of the undoubted positives of this story, that the announcement is opportunistic, and perhaps it is. Yet ride-hailing apps could have a very positive role to play in boosting women’s income and easing their entry into the transportation industry.
A report by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), named Driving Toward Equality: Women, Ride-Hailing, and the Sharing Economy, shows how ride-hailing fills a transportation gap for women as riders, improving their ability to travel to places that were previously inaccessible to them, and providing women with mobility and a greater sense of independence.
The report uses data provided by Uber from Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and the United Kingdom, surveying more than 11,000 female and male users of the Uber app.
Women drivers reported a higher income boost than men after taking up ride-hailing work, with the average income of women drivers once they began using the Uber app increasing across each market studied.
There was relatively good news from Africa, with South Africa having the second-highest proportion of women drivers (3.8 percent) in the six countries.
Uber’s Africa communications head Samantha Allenberg, however, said the company wants to do more on the continent when it comes to women.
“While Uber recently reached their goal to bring economic opportunity to one million women as driver-partners on Uber, the vast majority of those drivers are in the U.S. Female empowerment remains a priority for Uber, and as such Uber plans to empower more women across the world,” she said.
Uber competitor Taxify is also focused on closing the gap. Spokeswoman Terver Bendega said in many African states women lack the same level of access to work opportunities and mobility that men have.
She said ride-sharing lowered barriers for women in two respects – by providing them with flexible and profitable work opportunities, and offering reliable on-demand transportation.
“So whether women are getting into ride-hailing on the driver-partner end or the rider end, the ride-sharing economy presents enormous advantages,” Bendega said.
It also encourages entrepreneurship, and offers greater flexibility.
“Studies show that one of the biggest reasons women leave the corporate world to start their own businesses is the idea of having more flexibility to manage other responsibilities in their lives,” said Bendega.
“The ability to be your own boss and drive at your own hours is often reported as the most important reason many female driver-partners choose to participate in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry.”
One issue cited by the IFC report is safety. Allenberg said male and female driver partners are treated equally on the Uber app.
“Our technology makes it possible to focus on safety for riders and drivers before, during, and after every trip in ways that simply were not possible before smartphones,” she said.
“Uber encourages our driver-partners to make use of the safety features we have made available, including the security number that connects them to a central control room, where a geo-specific security or medical response partner can be dispatched within minutes.”
Taxify, too, is dedicated to driver safety, according to Bendega, with some support offered specifically to female drivers.
“Female drivers also have dedicated groups specifically designed to enable them to communicate their trip status with colleagues, share experiences and potentially volatile areas to avoid,” she said.
But will Uber or Taxify follow SafeMotos’ lead and develop a service that specifically matches female riders with female drivers? Not anytime soon, according to Allenberg and Bendega.
Allenberg says Uber’s safety systems are strong enough to mean there is no need for such a service, while Bendega highlighted practical concerns.
“We find that people in general are excited about being matched to female driver-partners, especially given its relative novelty. Creating a system where female riders can specifically request female drivers could potentially present a new and exciting segment opportunity,” she said.
“Overall, however, the ride-hailing business is a two-sided one where there is need to have enough drivers on the road to serve everyone in need of a ride, and our focus is on building the best way to move within cities as well as ensuring that the Taxify platform is a safe and reliable way for everyone to move.”
Tom Jackson is co-founder of Disrupt Africa, a news and research company focused on the African tech startup ecosystem.
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