Female riders in ride-hailing services are rare in NepalCompulsion to perform household chores, safety concerns, and lack of dignity of work keep female riders from joining such platforms.
At around eleven in the morning, after finishing up daily chores in the house—which include cooking, preparing lunch for children, doing dishes and cleaning—Ratna Rai leaves her home.
Geared up with her windcheater, black fingerless gloves, and a helmet, 50-year-old Rai turns on two devices to begin her work—her mobile phone and scooter.
It will be a busy day at work—eight hours. Just that she will be on the road.
Rai is a Pathao rider who provides ride-hailing services to customers.
“I have been using Pathao since the first lockdown, for about two years now,” says Rai.
Regular users of ride-hailing apps in Kathmandu say female riders are rare. Rai is one of them.
While ride-hailing apps were introduced in Nepal in 2016 with the home-grown Tootle app, various other applications such as Pathao and inDriver have also found a market.
On ride-hailing apps, both customers and riders register themselves. Customers pin their pick-up location and destination, based on which the application calculates the ride fare. Riders see the requests, accept accordingly and arrive at the pick-up location set by the customers, and drop them at their destinations.
Despite the dominance of such ride-hailing apps as an alternative to the Valley’s chaotic public transportation system, female riders are met once in a blue moon.
“I have been using ride-hailing apps for a year now, and I am a frequent user, but I have come across a female rider only once,” says Anugya Kunwar, 23, a resident of Lalitpur.
According to Suraksha Hamal, marketing manager at Pathao, the ride-hailing company has around 150,000 registered riders in Nepal and of them, only 400 are females, which makes just 0.26 percent.
The few female riders who have registered on the platform and are providing services have their own stories of struggle before joining the apps and have to navigate their way through the narrow alleys of Kathmandu cautiously.
Kabita, for instance, worked as a teacher for 22 years at a government school in Kathmandu. There was no pension after her retirement.
“As a single mother, I am the sole breadwinner,” said the woman in her early 40s who the Post is identifying with a pseudonym upon her request.
The pandemic-induced lockdown created more problems for her. So she decided to work in the ride-hailing gig economy.
Like Kabita, Rai realised that while she had no income, their expenditure, however, remained the same during the pandemic.
Having worked as a salesperson for years, and as a delivery person involved in export businesses, Rai knew she was competent to become a Pathao rider, which could allow her to have an income of her own.
“Today I work about 7-8 hours a day, and I also do some export stuff in the mornings, whenever I can manage time. I have the confidence to drive people to places,” said Rai. “And I make good money. The more time I invest, the more I get in return.”
Along with financial concerns, Kabita also emphasises that her decision to become a rider was to inspire her children, who are in their early 20s and have no plans of becoming financially independent.
“My children, who studied until grade 12, seemed to have no enthusiasm to earn a living. I wanted to show them that even as a woman over 40, I can and will earn my dues, and so should they,” said Kabita.
Despite suffering from various physical ailments, such as back pain, and hearing loss in one ear, Kabita hits the road whenever her health permits.
Unlike many active riders, both Rai and Kabita are heavily constrained in fully utilising the application. As female riders, they ensure that they are home before dark for two major reasons—to do household chores and for their safety. These structurally limited work timings also affect their income.
“As women, we don’t have the luxury to work in a relaxed manner. There is no way out of the household chores. So, coming home on time is crucial,” says Rai.
Kabita, who also holds a bachelor's degree from the Padma Kanya Campus, has a strict routine for herself. She is home by 7 pm in the summer and by 6 pm during winter.
Rai also ensures that she is home by the same time, mostly for her safety, she says. And to ensure that she is always safe and receives her pay, she emphasises that she refuses to take a ride offline.
Kabita, on the other hand, says that she mostly only accepts requests from female customers. As of now, she has only received a couple of male customers.
Aligning with Kabita’s preferences, a new ride-hailing application was also launched in March 2022, called Gyre Pink, which ensures that female customers exclusively receive female riders.
Kabita is excited about the new application.
However, there have also been instances where female riders have used male profiles as opposed to their own names and details.
“I was travelling from Satdobato to Thamel, and I recall that it showed a man’s photo and a motorbike coming to pick me up. But when the rider did come, it was a female rider and a scooter,” says Kricha Jha, a resident of Dhapakhel.
Perplexed at the misleading information, Jha inquired about it. To which, the female Pathao rider admitted that she used her husband’s profile.
“She said that she uses her husband’s profile to give rides because apparently many customers cancel rides when they see female riders,” says Jha.
Jha later shared this incident with Pathao customer service.
Female riders have to face various challenges before joining work, according to the two riders. The lack of dignity of work in Nepal often creates barriers to them becoming riders. Society’s perception of Pathao riders hindered them from joining initially.
Many people look down upon the profession as a lowly work, they say. Despite that, they persisted.
And as time passed, their family members have also become proud of their work.
“Why are you doing such a lowly job, they would initially say. Many asked me to quit. No one ever suggested that I do it. And I didn’t even seek permission from anyone to get myself registered,” says Rai. “And today, they say proudly that our daughter-in-law does Pathao.”