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Cambodia’s ride hailing apps have few women on board

Grab drivers stand beside their vehicles during the launch of the ride hailing-firm’s services in the country, in Phnom Penh, on December 19. Charly Two/AFP
Grab drivers stand beside their vehicles during the launch of the ride hailing-firm’s services in the country, in Phnom Penh, on December 19. Charly Two/AFP

Cambodia’s ride hailing apps have few women on board

The ride-hailing industry employs thousands of drivers in Cambodia, but a survey of the four largest firms revealed that less than a dozen of those drivers are women, while none of the companies had undertaken specific programs to train or recruit female drivers.

Executives justified the lack of female representation in their workforce by noting that women don’t like to work in the sun, don’t like lifting heavy things and prefer teaching to driving. But women’s rights advocates said that the companies needed to do a better job of tailoring their training and programming to women if they wanted to diversify their workforces.

US-based Uber, for example, doesn’t offer any female-specific training – such as programs to boost recruitment or address safety concerns – to would-be women drivers. When asked why, the company’s Cambodia Marketing Manager Poly Chim said such training would amount to “discrimination”.

“We don’t discriminate at all during our training, but I personally will pay more attention to women because they need it,” Chim said.

“They are just less knowledgeable.”

Uber was the only one of the four largest companies – which include Singapore-based Grab and local outfits ExNet and PassApp – to make a female driver available for an interview.

Heng Chhunlean, one of the three women currently driving for Uber, is a single mother in her 40s who started working for the company four months ago. As a beautician-in-training, working for Uber offers her a way to make extra money and support herself and her family.

She said that while she would now recommend the job to her female friends, the decision to sign up was not an easy one. She was worried about driving a car alone with male passengers, and her friends and family expressed concern about her safety.

“I was concerned about my security, but I needed the money to support my family,” she said.

Working for Uber has been an overall positive experience so far, Chhunlean said, though one incident did stand out.

“I faced one drunk customer who asked me to drive a farther distance” than what he had set in the app, she said. “I was scared and told him I would not drive any further.”

The man ended up leaving without incident, but Chhunlean said the experience made her nervous. She now doesn’t drive past 11pm, in part to avoid drunken customers.

The most prominent female taxi drivers in Phnom Penh are the women at Motogirltour, a service featuring young women in bright-red shirts ferrying tourists around the sights of Phnom Penh. The service has drawn international media coverage as an oddity in the male-dominated taxi scene in Cambodia.

But Motogirls founder Renou Chea said even she would think twice before signing up to drive for a ride-hailing application.

“I think driving local people is scarier than driving foreigners because . . . with tourists we feel safe; this is our country and we know where to go,” she said. “With local men, we have to reconsider, because they know everywhere . . . They can be stronger than you, and take you places and maybe hurt you.”

Chea acknowledged that driving a tuk-tuk or motorbike could be a tough job for women, but that was not the main reason women weren’t lining up to become drivers.

“I think it is a hard job to drive a tuk-tuk or a moto all day . . . but I think also [women] are scared . . . of being hurt, or of their reputations being affected,” she said.

Hor Daluch, the founder of ExNet, said he thought women would prefer to teach rather than drive, noting women could do other jobs. Top Nimol, founder of PassApp, said that three of his more than 1,000 drivers were women, but they all drove cars, preferring the air conditioned interior of a vehicle to an autorickshaw or tuk-tuk.

All four companies expressed a desire to recruit more female drivers. But their lack of female-specific programming would likely hinder their progress, according to Celia Boyd, managing director of SHE Investments, which provides training and mentoring to female entrepreneurs in Cambodia.

“At the end of the day, women need to feel safe in their chosen profession,” Boyd wrote in an email yesterday. “Even if the risk might be realistically low in certain cases, companies need to understand that the feelings of being unsafe may still be present, and so this needs to be respected and addressed.”

The problem extends well beyond ride-hailing apps, according to Boyd, and would only become a more important issue in the future.

“Cambodia is changing, and women are being encouraged to play more of a role in the formal economy,” she said. “However, there need to be more support structures in place to provide the tailored support women need to overcome gender-specific barriers.”

Additional reporting by Cheng Sokhorng

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