August 19, 2016

Meet Yangon’s most nonchalant lady cab driver

Daw Htay Htay Win stands in front of her taxi, proud and empowered. Photo: Jacob Goldberg
Daw Htay Htay Win stands in front of her taxi, proud and empowered. Photo: Jacob Goldberg

Daw Htay Htay Win is aware of her gender. She is aware that very few people of her gender share her profession. And she’s aware of the dangers presented by being a lone woman in a field dominated by men. But she doesn’t care.
“This is my job. This is how I get money,” she said matter-of-factly in an interview with
Htay Htay Win, 48, is one of a handful of woman taxi drivers in Yangon. Various reports by local media over the last few years have put the number of lady cab drivers in the city at as few as five and as many as 29. Since many cab drivers are not registered as such with local authorities, it is difficult to know how many cab drivers of any gender are actually on the street.
After her husband died in 2012, Htay Htay Win quit her abysmally low-paying job as an accountant for the Myanmar Army and began using the car she already owned to shuttle people around Yangon’s busiest city.
“I went from making 5,000 kyats [per day] to making 25,000 kyats per day,” she said.
This is well above Myanmar’s minimum wage of 3,600 kyats per day and is also above-average for a Yangon taxi driver. By her reckoning, this is because passengers feel safe with her.
“I introduce myself to customers who don’t know I’m a taxi driver. Sometimes they are apprehensive about taking a woman taxi driver, but they trust me after I talk to them. They believe I am less likely to steal from them,” she said.
But beyond building trust by capitalising on popular perceptions of women as trustworthy, Htay Htay Win’s gender seems to play a minor role in her career. She weaves in and out of traffic, cuts off other taxis to reach a customer first and haggles with foreigners in broken English, just like every Yangon cab driver does. She drives around the city until 9pm looking for customers, despite the admonitions of her friends who say being alone at night is dangerous for a woman.
“This is how I dress,” she said, gesturing toward her traditional Myanmar htamein. “They tell me to wear a hat and trousers to look more like a man. But I want to be open about being a woman taxi driver.”
She even drives through South Dagon Township’s Ward No 71, which is notorious among Yangon locals for being a hotbed of violent crime.
“I’m not afraid. I stay on the main road. If there’s a problem, I’ll drive away,” she said.
Three years after she decided to enter the male-dominated world of taxi driving, one of her sons has graduated from university and works as a sailor. Htay Htay Win says she is very proud of him. Her other son is still in school.
“I am very lucky. I always get passengers on my way home. Driving a taxi is a man’s job, but I have two kids, and I need the money, so I will drive.”


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