June 30, 2016 12:00 AM | by The Fustany Team
Basma Ali: An Inspiring Egyptian Uber Driver Who's Breaking Gender Stereotypes
You can't help but notice that there's a general gender gap in the world we live in, however, Basma Ali - an inspiring Egyptian woman, has decided to break gender stereotypes. Basma Ali is one of the very few Egyptian Uber female drivers, who aims to empower women and demolish gender discrimination. So, we had a little chat with her, and asked her to share with us her experience. Read on to know why Basma Ali suddenly shifted her career, and find out the message she wants to share with women everywhere.
Introduce yourself briefly.
I am a 30-year-old biomedical engineer, with experience in teaching, coaching, along with a few other skills I learned. I am married and have two beautiful daughters. I work with my father at his factory, and work at Uber as my hobby on the side.
You’re a woman who’s breaking gender stereotypes! Tell us about being one of the very few Egyptian female Uber drivers.
It started with my husband and I being regular Uber clients, and we’d always be surprised to find out that the person driving us to our destination is also an engineer, doctor, lawyer, or someone with a high educational background. It was inspiring, and we started researching about the job and application process. It turned out to be very convenient as a mother to pick my own working hours when the children are at the nursery, and safe with the rating feature in the application, and above all it was a decision I made that ended up inspiring so many other people. I ended up feeling very proud of that gender/culture risk I took to work at Uber.
Why do you think there aren’t more female Uber drivers?
There are more female drivers than you think, and I’ve even created an unofficial Facebook group called "Uber Ladies Egypt" to bring together our experiences as female drivers and clients. I believe that the more women will know about the convenience of the job, the more they will apply, definitely!
How did your parents react when you shifted from bio-medical engineering to the world of Uber?
Even though at the beginning it was difficult to explain to my father that I work at Uber – as the culture stereotype of being a driver is either frowned upon or automatically assuming that you’re uneducated and you’re poor – my cousins, aunts, and friends, husband, and father have been extremely supportive. My husband started working at Uber before I did, and that encouraged me to apply even more. Yes, he was a bit worried about me working in the streets of Cairo, but from his experience, he knew how safe the work environment is.
Do female clients differ from male clients? What’s the first thing that passengers usually tell you?
Not at all. The first thing that happens is that clients hesitate before they enter the car, because they don’t know whether to sit next to me in the front or in the back. As soon as I give them a hint to sit in the front, the questions start from there! I get asked about what I do on the side, if it’s comfortable to drive for a living in Egypt as a woman, and all other questions about breaking the stereotype. The most question asked is “Why?” and the answer is always “Why not? Doesn’t this happen abroad? We should be as civilized”. It gets them to think where their question came from, and why we set those automatic boundaries for women’s job opportunities.
There’s a lot of talk about safety and sexual harassment concerning women in general. Did you ever face any bad experience?
I haven’t faced any kind of harassment while working at Uber. This is mainly because of the rating feature in the application. People think that only clients can rate the drivers after each ride, but the truth is that we rate the clients too. If the customer is, for example, mean, harassing, or violent, I get to rate them as well. Just like the driver, negative ratings can result in the deactivation of the client’s account. This is what continues to make me feel safe.
Driving people from place to place in busy Cairo must be insane! How do you keep your stress level down?
I get asked this question a lot from clients! I believe that the stress I would get from running errands in the streets of Cairo is the same as doing it for a living. But, the beauty of it is that I started doing this as a hobby, so I personally enjoy what I’m doing. Also, the fact that I have flexible working hours makes it easier for me to stop whenever I feel overly stressed.
We live in a society where unemployment rates are relatively high. What’s your advice for women - specifically?
There are great opportunities for women without having fixed working hours, and you get to be your own boss. My advice is that if we continue to work by the cultural criteria of female careers and all those boundaries set for us, we will never reach anywhere. Just do what you think is right and go for it!
In your own opinion, what are the key elements that make a woman successful?
Having ambition allows you not only to dream, but also to make it come true. Another very important element that makes me feel successful, is the ability to do something unique. Also, being able to receive and accept support from those around you and ignore the negative energy people try to impose on you. More elements I believe in are: independence, strength, commitment, and facing challenges to reach goals.
How can we reach a higher level of women empowerment and leadership in our community?
Women need to put in mind that as long as they’re doing something right – legally and on a religious basis – and they’re not harming anyone, then you shouldn’t be thinking about what people say and do whatever makes us as women more powerful.
Lastly, who’s your role model, and why?
I don’t have a specific person as role model, but I take the best features from people around me and combine them into one positive model that I keep in mind as I go up the ladder to success.