From micro buses cutting you off to pedestrians crossing the street without even looking, it is no secret that driving in Cairo is a nerve-racking experience, even more so for women who choose driving as a profession.
We interviewed four women out of the hundreds who work for Uber to bring you their stories and experiences.
Shortly before graduation, Ali was under the impression that she would land her dream job with the snap of a finger, but when things did not work out as she had imagined, she decided to look at matters from a different perspective. “I already had my own car, so I figured why not put it to good use? I started offering rides to female friends and friends of friends. Most of my female passengers felt safe riding with a woman, and so my network of personal connections snowballed from there.”
Ali’s work in the private driving business continued for eight years before one of her passengers introduced her to Uber, an experience which has proven to be quite adventurous for her.
“Most of the clients I pick up through Uber are often astonished at the fact that it is a woman sitting behind the wheel, but many loosen up and start making jokes. When they arrive at their destination, they leave me with a heartfelt goodbye and sincere words of encouragement.”
On one occasion, Ali received a pick-up request from a guy who then refused to get into the car once he saw she was a woman. “He probably thought I was ‘Diaa’, but I turned out to be ‘Dina’. He called and asked if he could cancel the trip,” she recounts, adding that her curiosity got the best of her and she just had to know why he would not ride with a woman.
His answer was that the situation was awkward and he did not want to cause her any embarrassment. “I suppressed the urge to raise an eyebrow and told him instead that he was probably the thousandth guy I had picked up, so it was never an embarrassing experience for me. I also explained that he would have to pay a 10 LE cancellation fee and I convinced him to let me drop him off wherever he wanted,” explains Ali. “He ended up being one of the most decent human beings I have ever met in my entire life, and not just through Uber.”
However, throughout her journey, Ali has also stumbled upon some unpleasant passengers. “Some of the women I offer rides to throw judgmental looks in my direction and behave with an air of superiority.”
Ali has had a single strongly inconvenient incident with a client. “After accepting a request, his first comment when he stepped into my car was, ‘what forced you to accept such a job?’” recounts Ali.
I answered casually and did not think much of his question at first,” she explains. “However, the questions got more personal. He started asking if I was married or engaged, after which I told him that my marital status was irrelevant to the situation. He retreated and said he was just concerned for me as a brother. He even left me his personal number so that I can call him if I ever needed anything. At that point, I felt that he had crossed the line, so I pulled over and asked him to step out of the car.”
“He did not react well to the situation, of course, and even threatened to file a complaint to the company, but I could not allow him into my car again. I sent an email to Uber and they were very understanding of the situation,” she adds.
Ali’s favorite part about working with Uber is that the job puts no limitation on her. “I love being my own boss, and the flexible hours allow me to take care of my father and to travel whenever I feel like it.”
When asked about whether she ever feels worried about letting complete strangers into her car, she mentions, “It all depends on the neighborhood I am picking up people from. The most worried I have been was when I had to pick up four men together. If they had any thoughts of hurting me, I could have never put up a fight, but fortunately nothing happened.”
Mohsen was also only offering rides to women before she started working with Uber. “During my early days with the company, I was very reluctant to allow men I did not know into my car. However, as I picked up more people, I realized that it was generally a safe experience,” explains Mohsen.
Despite the fact that she has been working with the company for well over a year and that the number of female drivers working with Uber is on the rise, many of Mohsen’s passengers still react with amazement whenever they see her. “Many men are not sure whether they should ride in the passenger seat or the back seat, while many women tell me they feel safer riding with me and have expressed concern for my own safety,” she adds.
Mohsen recounts the most challenging situation she has ever faced on the job. “I was supposed to pick up a client, who had a five-star rating. This usually indicates that he had just signed up for the application, and thus it was very likely that he had set the wrong pickup location. My doubts were confirmed when I waited for 15 minutes and he still had not arrived,” she explains.
“I advised him to set a more accurate pickup location, and he just kept asking me in a condescending tone to hurry up and get it all over with, even after entering the car. I do not know where I found the courage, but I pulled over and asked him to step out of the car. He began cursing and using very foul language, and even went as far as threatening me if I leave,” narrates Mohsen.
“At the end, I called the company and made a complaint, but the whole issue left me so shaken up that I could not work for a few days after.”
Omar is a part-time Uber driver who enjoys driving and loves being hospitable. “I joined Uber because I thought it would be exciting to meet people of different ages and mentalities and to improve my communication skills.”
“Every trip I accept through Uber is not just a trip to drop off someone, but a new adventure. Every passenger carries a unique story. Teenagers in middle school and high school, for example, are usually very active and we joke and laugh a lot. With older passengers, we discuss politics, religion, the country’s economy, and so on,” says Omar.
During Omar’s early days with Uber, the requests were sometimes cancelled right after they were made. “I just assumed it was because I was a girl, but today the passengers I meet are usually very supportive and very encouraging of the idea. They would comment saying that I am changing the mindset of society,” she explains. “However, I am often asked if I have ever been harassed before, and so far my answer has been the same: my job is perfectly safe.”
“I have a very unique job; you do not see the same people twice. I consider my passengers a part of my constantly changing team, so I never really get bored. If on any given day you meet a difficult client, you are bound to meet a nice client afterwards,” she mentions.
On staying safe, Omar explains that she does not work at night. “I also have an agreement with my father, in which I would call him if anything went wrong and he would call me if I am ever late,” Omar adds. “Some of my passengers even feel relieved at the fact that I am a woman, like mothers requesting Uber for their kids.”
Ibrahim, who works in her family business, explains that she took up a job with Uber because she had a lot of free time on her hands. “My children were growing up and were less dependent on me so more time was clearing up. At the same time, I wanted to do something to provide a better life for them,” she adds.
Ibrahim chose Uber because the service provided by the company hit close to home. “I was always concerned about my daughter’s safety and I had to pick her up and drop her off whenever she went out up until she graduated high school,” Ibrahim illustrates. With the introduction of Uber to the Egyptian market, Ibrahim felt she had another choice, a choice that she wanted to become a part of.
Ibrahim explains that her experiences with her passengers have so far been pleasant. “Some of the male riders I usually pick up show signs of uneasiness about having a woman drop them off, but by the end of the ride they would be showering me with words of encouragement.” Several female passengers she picks up have expressed interest in joining Uber as well. It is the positive feedback she receives that makes the daily stresses of Egypt’s streets tolerable.
On staying safe, Ibrahim explains that she picks her working hours carefully. “From 7 to 11 in the morning, I usually get requests from serious commuters who are off to work. If I ever feel unsafe about the destination or if I do not trust the person I am picking up, I simply cancel the trip and inform the company.”
These women have emphasized their content with working as Uber drivers in Cairo, which may come as a surprise to many locals, showing that they have the complete freedom to ensure that their work environment is a safe one, and is to some, very fulfilling.
Names have been changed upon the request of the interviewees.