Three trailblazing women expatriates in Dubai are taking on bigger and wider roles in their careers – literally. They are a trio of the first female bus drivers in the emirate who are now manoeuvring massive double-decker buses across the city.
Two of them are Filipinas – Marygoldcez Carolino Diwa De Castro, 36, and Ailen Pueto Leaño Francisco, 46 – while the third one is from Kenya: 37-year old Gladys Jepkemoi Kiprotich.
They were first deployed by Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) in the city’s internal bus network back in July 2020, handling shorter routes for Dubai Metro feeder buses before being assigned to take on longer routes – including Route 22 (Deira City Centre to Al Nahda), Route 53 (International City to Gold Souq); Route 55 (International City to Satwa), and Al Warsan to Al Nahda 1 route.
“Now, imagine someone like us – petite women who are a little over five feet driving a 40-foot long, 15-foot high and 6.5-foot wide two-storey bus that can carry around 120 passengers,” De Castro and Francisco told Khaleej Times on Thursday, a week after they went behind the wheel of a public double-decker bus on March 23.
“It’s unprecedented,” added Kiprotich, noting: “It’s like we have broken the glass ceiling and removed that so-called invisible barrier affecting women in advancing their careers. We have also proven that what men can do, we (women) can do too.”
That sense of fulfillment and achievement is also not lost among their passengers. Francisco recalled her heartwarming encounter in Karama last week with a female passenger wearing an abaya. “She’s my kababayan (compatriot), and before coming off the bus, she approached me and said ‘thank you’.
I also saw in her eyes that she [was] almost tearing up with joy, and perhaps overwhelmed seeing a Filipina like her driving a massive bus, [a role] which is generally dominated by men,” Francisco shared.
She added: “I really felt proud that day. I was not only representing the RTA, I was also carrying the flag of my motherland, and waving the banner of every woman.”
“Men are also appreciative of our work – like those male passengers, mostly workers, in Ras Al Khor – many of them smiled at me before getting in and coming off the bus,” Francisco, a widower and mother to two adult children, continued.
“Driving a bus and serving people is a valuable and rewarding role,” added De Castro, who posted earlier a shout-out on her Facebook account thanking her colleagues who helped in her career advancement.
She added: “Double-decker bus duty unlocked - thank God! I enjoyed my first day of duty on Route F23, finishing the day safe and sound.”
The trio are proud of their road safety records. Francisco said: “It must be because of our caring character as mothers. We treat our passengers like our children and we want them to be safe always.”
Facts back up their claim. According to Thomas Edelmann, founder and managing director of RoadSafetyUAE, female drivers in the UAE are generally safe drivers. “They have been less involved in road accidents than male drivers in the last eight years,” he noted.
Ahmed Hashim Bahrozyan, CEO of RTA’s Public Transport Agency, meanwhile, said earlier: “This pioneering effort of employing female bus drivers is compatible with RTA’s principle of empowering women and achieving gender balance across various jobs… It creates job opportunities for women in a field dominated by men and promotes the culture of using public transport.”
‘Inspiration to our daughters’
For Kiprotich, being a female bus driver does not only mean being a breadwinner in her family, but also a proud role model to her 14-year old daughter Tiffany, who is studying in high school in Kenya.
Kiprotich said: “I have really inspired my daughter to do well in life and in school. I’ve shown her how to be courageous and persevering. I’ve failed twice before securing the bus driver’s licence.
I did not give up and continued the rigorous training. And even when I was already driving a bus, I took further training, and now I’m driving a really big bus.”
De Castro, a mother of two girls, added: “I think the message that we are driving is that women should never doubt themselves. On the road, we have proven that men and women are equal. And we hope to see more women become trailblazers in their own right."
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