But still not safe for women – drivers or passengers.
Like in many other countries and cities, until the launch of ride-hailing apps the taxi business in Kenya used to be considered “a man’s job” and unsafe for female drivers, states the World Economic Forum in a report from Nairobi.
Since 2014, Nairobi has experienced a surge in taxi apps, both local and international, including Uber, Taxify, Little Cab and Mondo, states the report. They have quickly become one of the important ways for residents to cope with the city’s poorly managed public transport system. The expansion of the city’s middle class population, armed with smartphones and affordable internet, has been a boon for these apps.
But even these apps didn’t make it completely safe for female drivers or female passengers, even in a slightly less male-centric business. While access to the driver’s seat improved with most apps, the perception of safety did not necessarily change very much.
For one thing, in the early years there were numerous attacks on ride-sharing drivers in Nairobi, particularly by drivers from the traditional taxi industry, angry at the shrinking of their business. There have also been reports of female passengers being attacked by drivers, says the WEF.
The WEF interviewed Mehnaz Sarwar, 33, to launch An-Nisa Taxi – the Arabic word for “women”, an e-taxi app launched in September 2018 exclusively for women and children passengers in Nairobi. Sarwar, a Muslim woman who wears a full-length niqab when in public, had previously run a family restaurant business. Her concerns about riding with a male driver pushed her to look into developing a female-focused app. With $10,000 from her previous business and other funds from her family, she started work on what became An-Nisa.
“My experiences motivated me to start this app. I always feared, as a Muslim woman, and I wanted to be driven by a fellow woman which was rare to find,” says Sarwar. Many women, Sarwar says, feel much safer and comfortable when driven by a fellow female.
Within the first week of service, she managed to register 100 women drivers and there were a thousand downloads of the app. There are now 300 female drivers on her roster.
“I want women to have an option of thriving in this male-dominated field,” Sarwar says. “That’s my vision.”
Taxify, another app, introduced vehicle financing for drivers who cannot purchase up front, giving priority access to women. “One in every 50 drivers is a woman. A lot of women on the Taxify platform are sole breadwinners in their households,” Shivachi Muleji, Taxify East Africa general manager, told the WEF.
And Mondo, launched in 2016, registered 200 women drivers. Little Cab, owned by Kenya’s largest mobile network, Safaricom, has registered 500 female drivers, up from just 27 when they launched in 2016. Little Cab has an option for a passenger to choose either a male or a female driver.
According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, only one third of the 2.5 million people employed in the taxi-driver field are women. With such a low number of women in the sector, Sarwar hopes An-Nisa will contribute to the narrowing of the gender gap by helping women employ themselves, the WEF reports.
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Number of female taxi drivers increases in Nairobi