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Thai Women Enter Male-Dominated World of Motorbike Drivers Amid Economic Uncertainty

In traffic-choked Bangkok, women are moving into the traditionally male-dominated field of motorbike taxi drivers.

Nikkei Asian Review reports that some women in the Thai capital see the relative independence of the job as an opportunity.

Kamokwan Sangngian, a 40-year-old woman, migrated from a factory job in the country's south to Bangkok three years ago. She now drives commuters from the On Nut sky train station around the city, according to the news source.

"I had a friend who was working at this queue, which happens to be near my house," Sangngian told Nikkei. "So I asked her to get me an interview with the group leader." She now operates from 7am to 4pm six days a week.

According to the news source, this has created good quality of life for the driver. "I like the freedom the driving gives me," she shares. "I can choose my work hours and spend my free time with my son. And I make good money. I can even afford taekwondo lessons for him."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, women face challenges when attempting to enter this male-centric sector. "When I first started driving, some men in the queue were teasing me," Sangngian shared with Nikkei. "Once I had proven to be a good driver, the harassment stopped. Some male colleagues also tried to push me out of the job because of the fear of competition."

Tens of thousands of men from Thailand's rural provinces migrated to Bangkok following the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, and many of them took up the job of motorbike taxi driver, known as P'win in Thai.

Kyoko Kusakabe, a professor at the Asian Institute of Technology north of Bangkok, sees similarities in this dynamic within other sectors of the Thai economy. 

"At the beginning, the men make life difficult for their female counterparts because they are scared to lose their social status as hard workers if too many women enter their profession and perform just as well as they do," she told the news source. 

While women entering a traditionally male line of work is good for equality, Kusakabe is concerned that it is a sign of larger economic problems. "There are less and less unskilled job positions," she told Nikkei. "Low-paid jobs in construction and markets are filled by Cambodian and Burmese migrants."

Meanwhile, government-led campaigns have removed street food vendors from certain areas, hurting a profession dominated by women. 

 "In Asia, Thai women are in a good position, but they might lose that advantage if the job market is shrinking and if they are not provided social benefits like childcare," Kusakabe shared with the news source.

[Photo via Nikkei Asian Review]


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