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Women get behind the wheel

Since the Burmese government started allowing new cars to be imported in 2011, many more taxis can be found on the streets of Rangoon. Most of the taxi drivers are male; however there are about five female drivers to be found in the city. Htay Htay Win is one of them.

“Before, I lent my car to another taxi driver. Everyday at 4 pm he came back and parked it in front of my house. I only used to drive the car near my home – people stopped me when they saw the taxi sign on my car, and if their destination was close I drove them. I was happy to have some extra income.”

Htay Htay Win decided on taxi-driving as a career. Ma Win is a widow and mother of two and used to work for the government, but started driving after she retired.

Now Ma Win leaves her home around 7 each morning to drive customers to their destinations. According to others in the business, the cost for driving a taxi is 1,500 kyats – US$1.50 – per hour.

“We have to work with the time. The drivers who drive dawn to dusk can make profits that exceed their costs. But in the current climate it’s very hard to make 10 000 kyat profit every day because of the traffic jams.”

However, Htay Htay Win says she can earn 13,000 kyat for a half-day’s work.

“I really applaud you because you can earn nearly 15,000 kyat profit for a half day, even though your car is poor and it’s using a lot of gasoline”. says a customer.

Ma Win says her driving improves each day and she knows how to save on gas.

But it’s not always easy being a female taxi driver in a male-dominated business. Win has had to face sarcasm and mockery from customers and fellow drivers.

“Many taxi drivers raise their eyebrows when we meet at traffic lights. Some bus drivers tease me because I am a younger woman.”

At first their jibes upset her, but then she remembered that she was earning an honest living and she shouldn’t care what others think.

Some passengers think it’s safer to ride with female drivers than with males, while others don’t think it’s important who drives the car as long as you reach your destination on time.

“I would like more women taxi-drivers because it would be more convenient for women to hire taxis”, said the male customer.

“From my point of view, women should earn their living as best as possible”, said another, female, customer. “Women are more stable and aware of the risks of driving, so I feel safer.”

Female taxi drivers are still very unusual in Burma, but as the country opens up and women gain more freedom and opportunities, the first steps for reaching a more equal society have been taken.

And Htay Htay Win is happy to have a job she enjoys.