As Kazakhstan’s first woman bus driver, Lyudmila Molokovskaya has broken the old gender barriers that have long confined women in her country.
Lyudmila, 55, says cheerfully that she receives nothing but approval from her female passengers as she drives her Number 37 bus, one of a fleet of compressed-gas vehicle that an EBRD loan to the City of Almaty’s transport arm helped buy.
“Women are always pleased to see me,” she said. “They say, ‘we will show those men that we can drive and we are strong!’”
Kazakhstan already has female trolleybus and tram drivers. But encouraging women bus drivers was part of the EBRD’s large-scale cooperation on upgrading public transport with the city of Almaty, which it has funded to the tune of nearly $160 million.
A key element in the package is the two loans that the EBRD provided to Almaty Electrotrans (AET) – totalling US$ 74.5 million – for 400 new compressed natural gas (CNG) buses.
This February AET held an open day to show off its new municipal transport terminus to the public. Drivers needed at least three years’ driving experience, an outgoing personality and the ability to work with people.
Management also hoped to follow international best practice and start hiring women as drivers.
“We have experienced the work of women on trolleybuses and trams; there have been women working for us for a long time, explained Asel’ Musayeva, an HR manager at AET. “Foreign countries are used to recruiting women drivers.”
“Practice shows that women behave better on the road, and are disciplined and polite in the way they interact with customers.”
Lyudmila had already tried several times to work as a bus driver; she had had an HGV licence since 2008, as a result of driving a minivan for a hotel. But she was pessimistic about her chances of success given her past experiences.
“When Depot #3 first opened [in 2011], I went there straight away and asked for a job as a driver,” she recalled. “But they were against it, because I was a woman.”
“Later, I went to Depot #2 and asked to be hired there. They put me on a waiting list and said that they needed to find some more women so that they could have a women-only route.”
“I was shocked when I was hired here.” (Lyudmila finally started work at Depot #1 in May). “I couldn’t believe it had finally happened. I didn’t think they would approve it.”
Lyudmila, inspired by her grandmother – who drove a combine harvester and then a lorry during World War Two – had always wanted to be a driver. But for a while she was persuaded by her traditionally-minded mother, who thought sewing a more suitable female occupation, to start work as a tailor in a factory instead.
Encouraged by her husband, Victor, himself a trucker, she learned to drive and passed her test in 1994.
Later, as well as a minibus, she also drove a trolleybus. (She says buses are actually easier.) Now she, the beneficiary of the EBRD’s Gender Team’s work with AET, and Victor both work for Depot #1.
Lyudmila is an astute diplomat when describing her working life.
“Passengers say that women drivers are neater than men,” she said. “When I worked as a trolleybus driver, I used to wash my own trolleybus after the cleaners had done it. I didn’t think they did a good enough job.”
She has now blazed a trail for other women within AET. Another woman is expected to start work as a driver there this summer and the company has also hired its first two female engineers.
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