In the capital of Cameroon’s Northwest region, some people who flag taxis won’t get in one driven by Solange Besong, the only woman among the city’s 4,000 registered cabbies. While some passengers doubt her competence or claim she’s just out to prove something, others commend and encourage her. Besong, who plans to drive heavy-duty trucks or construction vehicles someday, says she’s just earning a good living to raise her kids.
I have faced all kinds of challenges and stigmatization in my driving career. If I am still here, it is because I am not threatened by what people think or say about me.
Solange Besong, taxi driver
BAMENDA, CAMEROON – Solange Besong, 35, is the only female taxi driver in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s Northwest region. Since she began driving the taxi almost five years ago, the single mother of two has battled discrimination and harassment. Some people in need of a ride refuse to flag her or get in her vehicle. Others question her competence behind the wheel or say she’s just trying to challenge men. Still, Besong keeps driving.
Besong’s career choice makes her a rarity not just in Cameroon, but throughout Africa and the world. Some reports say there’s just one female taxi driver in Afghanistan, where women were for years prohibited from driving at all. Just 12.7 percent of the estimated 383,000 taxi drivers in the U.S. are women.
“I have faced all kinds of challenges and stigmatization in my driving career. If I am still here, it is because I am not threatened by what people think or say about me,” Besong says.
Thursday, 10:17 a.m.
Besong, who drives a taxi owned by her father, leaves her house and drives along Commercial Avenue, Bamenda’s main drag. She transports three passengers over a distance of about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). The vehicle is a shared taxi – multiple passengers can ride simultaneously.
Julius Tem, one of her first fares of the day, can’t hide his surprise at seeing Besong behind the wheel.
“Ah, who do we have here? A woman on the steering?” he says. “This women’s empowerment thing will make you people do terrible things.”
Besong smiles and responds with a biblical quote.
“My brother, I can do all things through God who strengthens me,” she says.
A woman on the street flags Besong’s taxi but, upon seeing a woman at the wheel, she pretends she has not.
“I am going nowhere, madam,” the woman says when Besong slows her taxi.
Donald Tata, president of the Northwest Drivers Union, calls Besong an “extraordinary woman.” He thought she’d leave the occupation soon after she took the wheel more than four years ago, but she proved him wrong.
“As a man, I used to feel very tired whenever I retired home after a whole long day of driving,” he says. “I could not imagine that a woman would be able to stand that pressure.”
Thursday, 4:10 p.m.
Besong transports 11 passengers in about an hour. Nine of them say they didn’t know Bamenda had a female taxi driver. The two who had heard of Besong had never ridden with her before.
One passenger, Bouba Saidou, voices disapproval of female taxi drivers.
“What do you women really want to prove in this country?” Saidou says in pidgin. “Must you women do everything that a man does?”
Saidou tells Besong she’d be better off owning a restaurant.
Besong, who tried selling tomatoes before learning auto mechanics, stands her ground.
“I am not trying to compare with men,” she says. “I am only trying to earn a living. Taxi driving to me is an open field for anyone who wishes to dare.”
Friday, 11 a.m.
Jerry Babila is pleasantly surprised when he enters Besong’s taxi.
“Courage, sister, courage!” he says. “I am glad to see a woman driving a taxi!”
The work isn’t easy, Tata says. Drivers often have to hoist passengers’ heavy luggage, and they must withstand all kinds of weather.
“Solange has proven to me that what a man can do, a determined woman can do it well and even better,” he says.
Besong has big plans. She tells Babila, her encouraging passenger, that she hopes to one day drive heavy-duty trucks or construction equipment.
“With that I can make more money and live a better life,” she says.
Nakinti Nofuru (global press)translated some interviews from pidin english to english.
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