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Driving Against Gender Stereotypes

Keddy Olanya, one of northern Uganda’s few female motorbike taxi or bodaboda drivers, wears an ankle-length dress and sandals so as not to offend her customers. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Keddy Olanya, one of northern Uganda’s few female motorbike taxi or bodaboda drivers, wears an ankle-length dress and sandals so as not to offend her customers. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

GULU, Uganda, Jun 4 2013 (IPS) - It is swerves and roundabouts for Keddy Olanya, a 32-year-old wife and mother of three from Gulu, northern Uganda, who is one of only a handful of female drivers negotiating the country’s potholed roads on a bodaboda or motorbike taxi. 

Olanya had been a teacher for a year in Lukome village, also in the country’s north, when she realised back in 2008 that she could make more money by moonlighting as a boda driver during weekends and school holidays.

A large number of men are earning a living through the trade. Yet there is only one other known female driver in Gulu, Olanya tells IPS. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, her gender can work for her, but also against her.

“Actually a female boda makes more money than the male boda,” admits the rider, who says she earned about 360,000 Ugandan shillings (138 dollars) a month in the classroom but can take home up to 50,000 Ugandan shillings (19 dollars) a day as a driver.


“I would like to encourage people to take up any form of work that they can do to earn themselves a living, without considering gender. Nowadays we are moving into a world of what? Of equality.” -- Keddy Olanya

“In most cases they trust female bodas more than men because of the way they drive. We are not so fast.”

The exact number of boda drivers in the country is unknown, although there is said to be over 145,000 in Kampala alone, according to a news report by local newspaper and online publication, Red Pepper.

This East African nation has been referred to as having a “bodaboda economy”, though statistics are hard to come by.

A 2002 United Kingdom Department for International Development-funded knowledge and research project by transport consultant John Howe, titled “Boda Boda – Uganda’s rural and urban low-capacity transport services”, said “about 1.6 million, or seven percent of (34.5 million people), depend for part of their livelihood on the industry. The livelihoods of a further 100,000 are supported from the repair and sustenance services the industry needs.”

The nasty stares and comments from some male drivers when Olanya’s on the road, or at her waiting point, are probably to be expected.

“Sometimes they can just say this job is fit for women who are not married, that I’m too gentle for the job, that I’m stepping too low,” describes Olanya.

On the other hand, she must often deal with regular attempted breaches of the client-customer relationship.

“Always when you’re carrying the men some are flattering you, some of them (make comments about) making love,” says Olanya.

“Some of them want to offer you more money than what you’ve charged. Taking advantage. You have to be principled.

“There are some jobs that require principles. Especially the work of a boda. It’s not easy.”

Having spent years dealing with stubborn students Olanya, who today has been driving her TVS heavy duty bike, a bike from one of India’s manufacturers, in an ankle-length dress and sandals, says she knows how “not to get customers annoyed.”

“You just talk softly but you have to stand your ground,” she explains.

It is the ridicule from members of the same sex, which is perhaps the most hurtful and frustrating.

“Some of them admire me. But some say I better look for other options, like maybe doing a business,” says Olanya.

“They just have that opinion that the boda’s not for women, it’s only supposed to be for men and not for professional women like me, a salary earner.

“They think that anyone involved in boda riding is a useless person.”

Olanya is adamant she is anything but that – and vows she will not be giving up her part-time gig any time soon.

“I would like to encourage people to take up any form of work that they can do to earn themselves a living, without considering gender. Nowadays we are moving into a world of what? Of equality,” she stresses.

“Women are advocating for equality. We should not say that this is for male, this is for female. Just anything that can earn you a living, please do it, other than despising some other job.”

Olanya is part of a growing trend of teachers and other professionals moonlighting as drivers to make ends meet.

Wilfred*, 35, a police constable in Kampala, has been working as a part-time rider five days a week for six months “for survival”.

“Many police are doing it,” says Wilfred, who says he earns about 125 dollars a month through his full-time job.

“It is necessary because the salary we get is not enough.” He tells IPS he normally earns about 20,000 Ugandan shillings (seven dollars) a day from picking up and dropping off passengers.

Flavia Nuwabine, 23, from Kyebando in Kampala has been a boda driver for two years and says she does not know of any other lady drivers in the capital. She turned to the trade after studying hotel management and catering, and discovering it paid a mere 100,000 Ugandan shillings (38 dollars) a month.

She carries people and parcels. Today she is weighed down with reams of A4 computer paper and soap, which she is taking across town to a local business. Nuwabine says she can earn 30,000 Ugandan shillings (11 dollars) in an average day.

Nuwabine admits she would rather be doing a job for which she’d studied, but says she’s happy to be making more money.

“My bosses were giving me 100,000 a month which wasn’t enough for me,” Nuwabine, who works six days a week from 7am until 6pm, tells IPS.

“They (both sexes) say nasty comments about me.

“The ladies, they say that job is for men. They say it is very, very bad, that I’m a young lady. I’m earning. That’s all.”

*Surname withheld.

 
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