Behind the steering wheel

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Don’t be surprised if you find a woman driver behind the wheels picking you up from the ride-hailing company Grab Philippines. One of them is Melissa “Lisza” Redulla who ditched a desk-bound job inside air-conditioned office and became a Grab driver since 2016. A mother of three grown-up children, the 49-year-old Redulla has since then pursued her career as a driver that enables her to earn enough but spending more quality time with her children and family.

Or, you might get picked up by Gina Dayao, a former tutor in Dubai. She returned home, invested her hard-earned money along with her husband’s and bought a car. She has been driving it as one of the Grab “entrepreneurs” and earning for her family here, without leaving the country to work again abroad.

The two female drivers are among the more than 1,000 women “entrepreneurs” who are with Grab Philippines. Currently, Grab Philippines is led by Grace Vera-Cruz as Country Head of this international transport network company. Vera-Cruz describes Grab as a leading super app in Southeast Asia operating across the deliveries, mobility and digital financial services sectors.

Founded in 2012, the Grab company profile claims to serve millions of people everyday to order food or groceries, send packages, hail a ride or taxi, pay for online purchases or access services such as lending and insurance, all through a single app. Aside from the Philippines, Grab also operates in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

In fact, Grab Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Anthony Tan flew to Manila last month when he personally committed in the creation of 500,000 new jobs in the Philippines. In a courtesy call to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) at Malacañang on Feb. 2, the Presidential Communications Office announced that Tan assured PBBM that his company would deliver their commitment of creating new jobs here in our country. Grab, which started operations in the Philippines in July 2013, is proposing to operate motorized taxis once Congress passes a law to allow it, the PCO added.

In the celebration of the International Women’s Month, we featured all three career-driven women in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last Wednesday at the Café Adriatico in Remedios Circle, Malate. Despite having Redulla and Dayao among their women drivers, Vera-Cruz admitted the transport industry remains dominated by male drivers. “We really want to encourage women because they are underrepresented. The imbalance is big. Ninety percent of our drivers are male. There must be equal numbers,” she pointed out.

Thus, Vera Cruz urged women who have professional driver’s licenses to apply as “driver-partners” of Grab Philippines. But the invitation is also open to all other applicants. She reiterated their company policy that observes no gender bias and is open to male, female, or LGBTQs, too.

“Thus, we all call our drivers as Grabbers,” Vera-Cruz quipped in obvious gender-neutral term.

“We treat our drivers not as employees but as entrepreneurs,” the Grab head stressed.

Of the 64 percent of micro-small and medium enterprises registered and assisted by the Department of Trade and Industry Negosyo Centers, GrabCars and GrabFood businesses are all “women-led.” To complement these, Vera-Cruz disclosed, they adopted a social impact agenda dubbed as “Grab for Good,” as a catchall, inclusive platform for livelihood opportunities to all its driver-partners, merchants-partners, and corporate partners.

In support of women drivers in app-based operators like Grab, Department of Information and Communications (DICT) Undersecretary Anna Mae Yu Llamentillo announced during our Kapihan sa Mania Bay news forum on the launching within the next few days of much improved internet highway. Llamentillo, however, declined to give details except for describing the project as aiming to close the gap of the so-called “digital divide,” especially in favor of women in the geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDAs).

This is in support, the DICT deputy underscored, of the empowerment of women, especially from the indigenous groups. Certainly, Llamentillo noted, women drivers who are considered “entrepreneurs” by Grab Philippines will benefit a lot from better internet or wifi connectivity. Herself relying much on technology, Llamentillo acknowledged the need for an efficient platform app to help not just women drivers but all drivers in the transport network companies such as Grab.

In our country, Llamentillo pointed to official statistics that showed 52 million Filipinos, including a significant number of women living in areas already covered by mobile broadband do not use mobile internet. Among the barriers faced by women are handset and data costs, limited access to networks and electricity, safety and security concerns.

Llamentillo recently presented a Philippine position paper before the United Nations on the observance of the International Women’s Month theme on the digital divide affecting women all around the world. According to the UN Women, she cited, the digital divide has become the new face of gender inequality. Global figures show that women are 18 percent less likely than men to own smartphones and far less likely to access or use the internet, she added.

Speaking for her fellow women drivers, Redulla lamented the traditional and sometimes cultural negative notion against them. Redulla swore women drivers like her work as hard their male counterparts, especially amid the acute lack of public transport in our country.

Vera-Cruz echoed her call for the government to act soon on further opening 100,000 slots for the transport network vehicle service (TNVS) with the increasing passenger demand amid the economic reopening of the country. They wish the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) will open at least the first tranche of about 20,000 in Metro Manila where passenger demand is direly met.

We may see more and more women drivers behind the wheel once the LTFRB does its work soon.



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