Safety concerns curb female ride-hailing app drivers

Ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Taxify have become a new age necessity and are allowing more women in South Africa entry to a traditionally male-dominated industry — but cases of harassment have hampered progress.

The findings of a recent report titled Driving Toward Equality: Women, Ride-Hailing and the Sharing Economy, by the International Financial Corporation (IFC), found South Africa had the second-highest number of women drivers, at 3.8% of the industry, out of six countries.

The other countries included in the study were Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

The report also noted the inability of ride-hailing app companies to single-handedly solve the security challenges women face when traveling alone, as passengers or drivers.

Of the female drivers interviewed 51% said that while the job was convenient, with its flexible working hours and opportunities for networking, they were reluctant to work at night, adversely affecting their earnings.

Commission for Gender Equality spokesperson Javu Baloyi said safety policies should be introduced in plain language and workshops should be held to educate the public about harassment.

“Every company and every government entity must have policies for sexual harassment and bullying and intimidation. If those things are there it will help deter the abusers.”

According to the IFC’s report these would help drivers and passengers better understand the security features in their apps and improve interaction between app creators and users, to bolster security technology.

An ex-Uber driver in Boston, in the US, created a ride-hailing business in 2016 called Chariots for Women, which was to be exclusive to female drivers and passengers. As a father and husband, Michael Pelletz sought a solution to the horror stories he had seen and heard from many female passengers. However, courts shut down the company within the same year based on gender discrimination

But Uber has responded to concerns by adding 24-hour access to its Global Incident Response Team to its app for drivers. Additionally, it has hired extra personnel in crime hotspot such as Gautrain stations and partnered with security response services to dispatch staff in emergencies.

Unprofessional behavior like inappropriate physical contact or verbal aggression is not tolerated and would go against Uber’s community guidelines,” said Uber communications officer Samantha Allenberg.

Uber last year has also started providing driver safety sessions across South Africa, in a climate that saw social media campaigns, such as #PressForProgress, #TheTimeIsNow and #MeToo, raise awareness around sexual harassment and gender inequality.

Baloyi said the key to create an equal society was, among other things, to change the way in which young children were raised.

We mustn’t try to make the other think [they are] more important than the other or have got more rights than the other. They must be raised on the same path. Teach them to show respect, to protect each other,” he said.

Achieving gender equality could also solve a multitude of other social and economic problems, he added.