By CHRISTINE MWAABA -
THE number of female commuter passenger bus drivers in Lusaka is on the increase and in an effort to find out more about this rare breed of women who are venturing in commuter passenger minibus driving, Features Reporter CHRISTINE MWAABA caught up with one Ireen Changwe who does not shy away from the ruthless regime that goes with minibus driving.
Initially, Ireen was confined to working as a domestic maid.
While some may cringe at her career change, Ireen does not.
If anything, the Lusaka based female bus driver has keenly taken up her new responsibility, having done the unanticipated and gone against the tide of social stereotyping that excludes women from jobs like minibus driving.
Ireen has worked as a minibus driver for almost a year now and she believes she has become well vested in the occupation.
She is a mother of three.
Ireen had a rough upbringing.
She dropped out of primary school when her family fell on hard times due to the loss of her father, Winfred Changwe, who a breadwinner.
Mr Chngwe was a bus driver at the time.
Following this tragedy, Ireen’s life took a downward turn, becoming unbearable as Ireen encountered a number of hardships.
Her mother, Annie, could not adequately provide for the whole family.
It was at this point that Ireen stared looking at what options she had to that could enable her survive what she was going through.
She was in her early twenties when she found a job to work as a domestic maid. But she was far from happy.
She dreamed of finding herself a better ans was particularly interested in something extraordinary.
Unexpectedly, an opportunity presented itself when Ireen got another job at Tasic Trading where she worked as a sales lady.
The company was an agent for Zambia Breweries.
Eventually, she was promoted to senior manager at the trading company which supplied soft drinks and alcoholic beverages.
A turning point in her life came when one manager noticed that some drivers at the company were failing to report for work time.
The manager thought it would be a good idea to have Ireen go for a driving course so that her potential could be fully utilised due to her commitment she showed at the workplace.
Ireen was later sent for a driving course after which she successfully received her licence.
She then started running drinks deliver schedules which also involved driving company trucks.
This was until she was employed by Lusaka’s Capital Buses, popularly known as Flash Buses.
“I was willing to do anything in order to make sure that my family has food on the table and so that we could not ask for food from other people every single day,” she said.
Making that decision to drive passengers was not as easy as many people might think because Ireen had to consider the environment in which people associated with the business of passenger bus driving work.
At first, she was skeptical about taking up the job because it was associated with all sorts of morally unhinged characters like call boys and rowdy drivers widely thought to be uneducated.
“I had limited options, so I took up the job regardless of what people said,” she said.
Ireen also knew that landing the job as a mini bus driver would mean nearly all her colleagues would be male, but rather than be afraid, she thought it would give her an opportunity to share ideas rather compete with them.
Ireen is grateful to Capital Buses for according her an opportunity to realise her potential in a career she has become passionate about.
“I thank the boss at Capital Buses for making me who are I am today and I thank them for recruiting and believing in women by employing women drivers like me,” she said.
She said some public passenger transport operators would favour women because of their patience and care when they are transporting people.
She said women possess the care and patience that it takes to deal with people’s lives on the roads.
On a usual working day Ireen starts work around 04:30 hours.
This gives her time to make several trips aimed at ensuring she reaches her daily targets.
To show commitment to her job, Ireen reports for work in uniform, given that the law stipulates that all bus drivers should be in uniform.
Ireen always strives to work hard in the morning to ensure she put sufficient effort in meeting her daily cashing.
She said she tries to work hard in the morning because most market traders, business men and women make most of their movements around that time to make orders.
“Morning is usually the best time for bus drivers to work because of less competition and half the target amount of money required can be made before one knocks off,” she said.
For some time now, working as a driver has enhanced her knowledge when it comes to passenger mini bus driving.
Ireen has since become a familiar face for to many commuters using Capital Buses in Lusaka.
She has adapted to the language and tone of voice used in the industry because it is significant for easy communication during the course of duty.
This is despite reservations from passengers who express deep surprise to see her behind the wheel doing what is widely perceived to be a man’s job.
“Some people get shocked, others get surprised while others look just stare when they hear me calling for clients. But now, I have gotten used to these reactions,” she said.
Ireen wants to be among trailblazers who will lead Zambian women to new frontiers.
Rather than refrain from making herself conspicuous at Millennium Bus Station from where her minibus loads, she instead freely she calls out to commuters to get on her minibus without fear.
Aside from driving a minibus, Ireen likes spending time with her children and her family during her spare time.
Yes, Zambia may be one of the many countries in the world where driving is permitted for all.
However, it is hard to find a woman driving a public transport vehicle in a vastly conservative and stereotypical country like Zambia.
In the case of Ireen, taking up a job thought to be unfit for women was not easy.
But in spite of the dangers and fears, women like her must be encouraged to venture beyond their comfort zone in order for them to become role models that influence women be bold and go further than society gives them credit for.
Zambia has seen several women break into careers thought to be a preserve of men.
That is the change that has inspired the likes of Ireen who believed that change should be embraced because it is inevitable.
Ireen said women to should be given opportunities to compete fairly with their male counterparts.
“Women can perform if given a platform to execute their full potential,” she said.
She advised women to avoid chauvinistic tendencies and participate in any field they desire to enter in order for them to reach their full potential.
Ireen’s dream is to drive long distance passenger buses.
She believes that would be the only way she could contribute to inspiring women to change their level of participation in the country’s advancement.