Steering change, Indonesian women take on Jakarta with their motorbikes

With the introduction of online ride hailing aps, more passengers are turning to motorcycle taxis to dodge traffic and zip around Jakarta. And women are starting to enter this male dominated world.


Senin, 06 Mar 2017 12:53 WIB


Nicole Curby

Female driver, Rosinawati, in Jakarta. (Photo: Nicole Curby)

Female driver, Rosinawati, in Jakarta. (Photo: Nicole Curby)

In Jakarta freeways sometimes feel like parking lots

The city is overrun with traffic jams, or macet, as Indonesians call it. 

But with the introduction of online ride hailing aps, more and more passengers are turning to motorcycle taxis to dodge the traffic, and zip around the city. 

Nicole Curby has this story on the women entering this male-dominated domain.

With more and more cars in Jakarta, streets are so densely packed sometimes it feels like you crawl at a snail’s pace.

Many Jakartans spend hours commuting each day, each way, morning and night.

By far the fastest and the cheapest way through the city is on motorbike.  So many of us get around the city on ojeks, or motorcycle taxis. But until recently, of the hundreds of ojek drivers I’d had, every single one of them was a man. 

It’s not that women don’t drive motorbikes in Jakarta. There’s plenty of that. But when I see gangs of motorcycle drivers hanging around on street corners waiting for customers, they’re entirely male. So I decided to ask workers in the city.

“I never have a taxi driver woman, since I stay in Jakarta. Ever! Since five years ago. I never have a taxi woman as a driver that take me anywhere,” said regular commuter Josta. 

Others, like Annisa told me that they had occasionally found a female driver. 

Fajar takes an ojek, or motorbike taxi several times a day, but getting a female driver is so rare, it’s memorable, he says.

“One time I remember vividly the driver apologised she was female, ‘You don’t mind taking a female driver do you?’ And I was like, ‘Of course not, why is it a problem?’ Fajar recalled. 

“Yes, I have had female drivers a couple of times, probably 5 times in the 2 years that I have used gojek,” he concluded.

Even though they’re hard to find, women drivers are out there. 

Rifka kurniawan has been making her living as a motorcycle taxi driver for over a year.

“There are many customers that don’t want a female driver,” Rifka told me. “They want to cancel. I have to say, don’t cancel!”

Rifka loves the job, but says it’s a daily struggle to be accepted on equal terms. And the biggest problem doesn’t come from other drivers, but customers.

“Just earlier this morning I took an order. I hadn’t yet met the customer, and they telephoned me. I was already at the place to pick them up, and then they asked to cancel.” 

Rifka asked the customer why they wanted to cancel, suspecting it was simply because she is a woman. 

Well-worn stereotypes about female drivers are hard to break with. “There are people that think that women drivers are still learning to drive,” said Rifka.

Wilhelmina, also a driver, agrees. Some men clearly find it confronting to take a ride from a woman.

“Sometimes if it’s a man they say they are embarrassed to drive with a woman and they don’t want to sit at the back,” Wilhelmina said.  

Regular commuter Rizal told me that he was so used to having male drivers that the first time he got a woman driver he was uncomfortable, and so he asked her to sit at the back, while he drove.

She refused. But other female drivers have let him drive. 

Like Wilhelmina and Rifka, who both say they sometimes let male passengers drive while they sit at the back, just so the passengers won’t cancel and find a male driver instead.

But when I asked women they told me that they’d prefer a female driver, if they could choose.

Seventeen-year-old Jakarta resident Saiwan told me, “I think it’s better to have a female driver than a male driver, because I don’t feel afraid with her.” 

She went on “sometimes with a male driver they are asking me where I am from, how old I am, I feel scared. I would chose female driver.” 

Where sexual harassment is rife, there are good reasons why women prefer the rare find that is a female driver. 

Josta remembered the last time she got a motorcycle taxi, “my motorbike driver asked me, where’s your husband, or are you single or not?” 

“Oh my god, that’s not your problem!” 

In the meantime, more and more women are becoming ojek drivers, according to Rifka. She has organised a group for women drivers. It has more than 100 members, and they’re growing.

And some men are starting to get more comfortable with women drivers. Wilhelmina told me a male passenger recently took a nap on the back of her bike, as she zipped through the city.


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