In a society where certain professions are often associated with specific genders, several individuals are pushing through societal norms, as seen in interior design, makeup artistry and even shoe-making. Asibe Ifeoma Philomena joins the line of unconventional females making ends meet through commercial driving. A recent graduate of the University of Calabar, Philomena embodies resilience and determination, overcoming challenges to forge her own path.
Driven by the need to self-support after entering university, Philomena turned to minibus driving. “Before I became a graduate, I drove the minibus and paid my school fees,” she recounted. “I said to myself, if I can drive, then I should do something with it.” This decision not only fueled her education but also ignited a passion for empowering other women.
Facing the Tide
Philomena’s journey hasn’t been smooth sailing. She encounters intimidation from male drivers who make disparaging remarks, highlighting the deeply ingrained gender biases. “Sometimes they tell you, ‘Go home and cook; what are you doing on the road; get out of this road,'” she shared. This echoes the experiences of the Ladies on Wheel Association of Nigeria (LOWAN), which advocates for equal treatment of female drivers.
Despite the challenges, Philomena finds solace in government initiatives that support female bus drivers. The administrations of both former Governor Ben Ayade and current Governor Bassey Otu have abolished ticketing and reduced taxation, providing much-needed relief. “The past government made it compulsory that the female drivers in the state don’t buy tickets,” she affirms. “They also made sure that the police and other security agencies don’t disturb female commercial drivers.”
Leading the Charge
Spurred by her desire to see more women break into the driving industry, Philomena formed the Calabar Women Minibus Drivers Association, which boasts over 20 members today. “I always have a passion for bringing women together and making them feel superior,” she stated. “I always see the women coming out in whatever they are doing.”
Philomena’s ambitions extend beyond minibuses, however. “I even intend to go into driving trailers,” she declared. This aspiration symbolizes her unwavering spirit and serves as an inspiration to countless women seeking to defy limitations
Indeed, Philomena’s story is a powerful call to action, urging women to embrace their potential and challenge societal norms. “Even at that, anything can happen,” she emphasized. “I encourage women to put in their efforts to do whatever they are doing…I encourage every woman to go into commercial driving to support themselves.”