Some Nigerian female commercial drivers, under the umbrella of Ladies on Wheel Association of Nigeria (LOWAN) have accused Nigerians of subjecting them to what they described as unfair treatments including discrimination, humiliation and harassment.
The women, who spoke recently during the last day of the global 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, said apart from calling them sex workers, many of their clients also allegedly try to take advantage of them by seeking amoral affairs.
These women, who converged on the Women’s Rights and Health Project, WRAHP’s Ireti Resource Centre, were dressed in the same shirts with inscription in line with the theme of the global event, which is entitled; “Orange the World: End Violence against Women Now.”
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES during the event, the president and founder of LOWAN, Nkech Abiola, said many of her members go through abuse from their homes, environment and the larger society.
She said, “We decided to join hands with the WRAHP and Ireti Resource Centre to mark the last day of activism against gender-based violence. I have been assaulted verbally so many times. People look down on me, the things they say are belittling, but because of my will power, I am still standing.
“Those things they say are enough to lead one into depression. On one occasion, a lady driver was beaten by a man inside her car.”
Adding that the discrimination stretches to refusal to patronise them, Ms Abiola, who is a driver with Uber, a passenger transport company, said many ordered rides get cancelled on daily basis as soon as the rider discovers that the driver is a woman.
“Some people will say that women don’t know how to drive. Some say that they cannot sit and a woman will drive them while others will say that they are in a hurry and don’t want to be delayed by a woman,” she noted.
She added that many of the female commercial drivers are university graduates across various fields but had to take up the job for survival.
‘They call me wayward’
One of the drivers, Lawal Ayobami, said many times, women passengers give them more problems.
She said; “A fellow woman like you will see you on the wheel and the next thing that comes to her mind is that you are wayward. But if I am wayward, I will not be driving. I am doing a man’s job, so I deserve to be appreciated.
“I drive for a living and I am proud of it. When you earn legally, you are proud of yourself. I went into driving because I needed to take care of myself and the fact that I love driving as well. Also, there is no job out there so I use driving to escape poverty.”
Asked about her educational qualification, she said she has a BSc in Business Administration and a telecommunications and customer service certification from Houston University. “But there is no job anywhere so I had to take what was available.”
Ms Ayobami, who gave her nickname as AY, said she gets harassed by both male and female passengers.
“I started driving three years ago. It has been fun, interesting, hectic, it has been everything and yes, I have experienced harassment from both ladies and guys but we thank God. Sometimes when you pick a man or woman, he or she will be staring at you via the mirror and the next thing he is asking you to go to a hotel with him,” she said.
Another LOWAN member, Ogum Maureen, advised women to use the opportunity they get as drivers to campaign against domestic violence to their passengers, saying being afraid to speak out is the beginning of the troubles.
“Some women are afraid to speak. They wear make-up, go out to work but go back home to husbands who beat them. We can use LOWAN as a means to get to women out there who are going through violence by introducing them to the Ireti resource centre to get justice,” Ogum said.
On her part, Mercy Atagana, also of LOWAN, said the association needs government support in the area of housing. “Many of us here are paying our rent ourselves. No man is paying for us but if we can get mortgages from the bank with the support of the government it will go a long way.”
Saying that LOWAN also needs free health insurance, Atagana said many of the driver’s sit for almost 20 hours a day.
Meanwhile, the founder of WRAHP and Ireti Resource Centre, Bose Ironsi, said it is high time society began to respect the work LOWAN does.
Mrs Ironsi said that women drivers should not be discriminated against because they are women. “Majority of the people who are on the wheel are women who want to break stereotypes that say that only men should be drivers when you actually don’t require anything special to drive.”
Mrs Ironsi told them not to allow culture, tradition or stereotypes to stop them from fulfilling their dreams.
“I am calling out to those women who feel they are economically disempowered to join the LOWAN to actualise their dream. You don’t have to be dependent on anybody,” Mrs Ironsi said.
Ladies on Wheel Association of Nigeria, LOWAN, is the first registered female drivers association of Nigeria. It is an organisation of female commercial drivers that have been in existence for three years.
According to its leadership, the organisation supports women who are interested in engaging in commercial driving, saying it brings members together for protection against abuses and for solidarity purposes.
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