Kenya: In a Man's World, Muslim Woman Defies Odds as Tuk-Tuk Driver

Farida Shenga, 40, is pictured in the tutk-tuk she operates in Kibokoni, Mombasa County.

She operates on her own terms in a conservative community where reservations, mainly as a result of her religion and job, put her at odds in getting clientele.

Forty-year-old Farida Shenga, a tuk-tuk driver, is beating the odds to put food on the table for her family.

'Mama Farida' as she is commonly known in her circles, especially in Kibokoni, Mombasa County, has found a way to make money in a traditionalist society in which women shy away from male-dominated roles.

The predominantly Muslim region frowns upon women who take up certain roles, mostly because of religious biases, but the mother of three has been in the business for the last 13 years.

"I decided to venture into the sector in 2005 when my husband Mohammed Juma was laid off. This rendered us homeless so we had to seek refuge at his relatives' home. That is when I decided to get into this. Providing for the family became my responsibility," Shenga says on a drive in the town centre.

"I used to fear driving tuk-tuks because I did not know how people would react. Many people in Mombasa are used to seeing men driving the three wheelers. I have been able to surmount criticism by some family members and friends and educate my children."


Shenga has had to work twice as hard as she is her family's sole breadwinner. Her working hours are fixed to allow her time with the family.

"I always wake up at 5 am to prepare the children for school. I then start my daily routine and finish at 7pm," she says.

The fruits of Shenga's labour are clear for all to see but she has been criticised by people who wonder how she could fit into a man's shoes.

Despite the visible fruits sprouting, being a Muslim driver has been accompanied by criticism from her sisters of the same faith who condemn her for fitting into a man's shoe.

Ironically, it is her male clients who have kept her going as they identify with her courage and determination to provide for her family.

"I am motivated by male colleagues and customers. Most of my male Muslim clients encourage me every time I carry them, saying they are happy with what I am doing. They even give me tips," she says.


However, Sheikh Mohammed Khalifa, Organising Secretary of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya says that according to Islamic laws, a woman is only allowed to drive a tuk-tuk if her passengers are women.

If the passengers happen to be men, Sheikh Khalifa says, they must be in her family circles.

He adds, "As seen in Saudi Arabia, women are allowed to drive around the town only if well-covered in Hijabs."

These requirements present Shenga with some of her biggest challenges, alongside stiff competition from men who are more aggressive in wooing customers.

"I understands the conservativeness of the community but I am happy that it hasn't put me down. My children have to eat, get clothed and be educated. I appreciate the fact that most of my clients are men who appreciate what I have to go through to make ends meet for my family," she says.

"It is sometimes hard to find customers. This forces me to work extra hours to put a meal on the tabble, but my children are now understanding."


To the children, Shenga is more than a mother - she is a hard working role model ensuring they have a strong foundation.

"She motivates me a lot. She has already taught me how to drive the tuk-tuk so I occasionally help her,"says her son Aboud Juma.

Shenga encourages women to get out of their comfort zones and work harder regardless of the fields they are in.

"We need to inculcate the attitude of hard work because you will enjoy more what you make, as opposed to what you borrow," Shenga says.

Three wheelers are popular in Mombasa because they are cheaper than ordinary taxis and reach areas inaccessible to matatus.

The county has about 6,000 tuk-tuks which provide employment for at least 30,000 drivers.

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