Ride-sharing services like OBHAI can revolutionize commuting for women
I grew up in Dhaka, in a semi-conservative family. It is a family where you need approval for everything from the family head, who is my father.
My father is a person who is open to things, and taught me the differences between good and evil, decency and indecency. And at the same time, I never had too much freedom to take big decisions in my life. If I needed something, I always had to convince my parents first.
I didn’t get to be a professional rider on my first pitch. Needless to say, it wasn’t about the money. I had to get the permission to buy a bike first.
Regardless of social class, economic status, or background, every single woman of this country goes through an epic saga of life-long gender-based struggles, persecution, and objectification.
Starting from very early ages, our every move is an element of frowning and questioning. If a woman jogs in a park, people look at her and relish her act of running. If a woman wears a fashionable dress, she immediately becomes a rebel.
Coming from a middle-class family, I always have to use public transport, and if I have to describe my anguish of commuting by bus on a daily basis, I might need a bigger space than I have.
One rainy morning last year, when I was going to class by bus, standing amidst a sweaty crowd, I saw someone through the window. It was a young woman of my age, riding a motorbike wearing a raincoat.
She was riding her bike in the gruelling Dhaka traffic with such an ease, I was mesmerized. She had a strange aura of dignity, professionalism, and integrity with her gestures. She was like a single unit of a revolution, symbolizing feminism and ignoring all the inequalities that we endure every day. I never saw her face, but I instantly decided to buy a motorbike for myself.
I had to convince my father, who initially declined my proposition of buying a motorbike considering the present road conditions and risk factors.
Eventually, I got his blessings and cashed out my savings for my bike. I never had any bicycle in my childhood, and I didn’t know how to ride it. Last October, within three days, I learned to ride a bicycle, and within a month I learned to ride a motorbike and applied for my license. My life has never been the same again.
Compared to the rest of the country, I see this city as a privileged place. Everything comes here first - especially the technology.
And because of that, technological evolution is playing momentous roles in urban lifestyle and culture. Mobile internet is leading, influencing, and changing the way we live every day.
Online shopping, ticketing, food delivery, household services, financing, utility bills, and specifically, ride-sharing services have changed our lives forever.
After mastering my driving skills on the busy roads of Dhaka, I immediately took the opportunity of registering one of the ride-sharing services called OBHAI, who actually has a service exclusively for women.
I started serving women passengers across the city. Since then, I have been earning a considerable amount of pocket money for myself and contributing to my family by riding my bike in my leisure time. It has become a miraculous financial solution and aid for me for a while now.
An industry for empowerment
Being a woman, riding a motorbike professionally, taking people from one place to another in a city like Dhaka is not an easy task. When I am providing a public service, I need to know the roads better than ever for locating my passengers and delivering top of the line service.
I need to ensure safety for myself and the passenger by using adequate safety measures. I need to avoid the big bullies on the roads who love to tease women riding a bike by throwing a cheap comment or intimidation by a running vehicle.
And lastly, I need to keep my bike safe from being stolen. My experiences are not always pleasant, but I am well aware of my occupational hazards and troubleshoot accordingly.
Apart from a few bumps in my road, I love my new part-time profession. I am completing my MS from Dhaka University in health economics and during my extra time, but I’m busy ride-sharing.
Before getting into a full-time job, the ride-sharing industry is giving me savings for rainy days and taking care of my present expenditures. As I said before, I consider myself lucky for residing in Dhaka, because this city has the scope to utilize opportunities to its fullest. If I were a small-town girl, I might not have had this opportunity.
I sincerely feel that this industry can really become a serious tool for empowering women only if the number of female riders increases. I see immense opportunities for employment in this industry if women participate in an optimistic number.
Moreover, if women do not come forward, eventually it will be women who will be deprived of ride-sharing services which are revolutionizing our way of commuting.
In my experiences, I also feel that the payment system could be fully digitally integrated so that no physical transaction is required. It would have been nice if I could get the payment straight to my account.
For women in Bangladesh, ride-sharing services, especially provided by women, have the potential of being one of the biggest game changers.
A dark and shady alley, even in the heart of the capital, might not be safe for one female rider. But when a dozen female riders commute through the same alley, it will be safer - not only the alley, but the whole nation will light up.
Tanjina Akhtar is a Rider, OBON - a feature of OBHAI, for female riders and passengers.