PETALING JAYA, March 4 — A mother’s love knows no bounds, and the saying is certainly true for three Malaysian mums who gave up their day jobs to dive into the gig economy.
Yearning for a flexible schedule that would allow quality time with her kids, Noorain Paker Seelan left a lucrative position in the food and beverage industry to become a Grab driver in January 2019.
She hasn’t looked back since and loves how being an e-hailing driver has given her the best of both worlds: A stable career without having to sacrifice her duties as a mum.
“I have more time with my family now. One of the reasons I left my previous job was because my children are growing up and I wanted to spend more time with them.
“I have plans to do this long-term. During an International Women’s Day event with Grab last year, I met a 60-year-old aunty who is still driving with Grab.
“I had just joined at the time so I was very inspired to hear her speak about the experience and it made me feel like this career would be promising,” Noorain told Malay Mail in conjunction with International Women’s Day today.
The 44-year-old is part of a new wave of female drivers and food delivery riders who have found professional freedom and flexibility in Malaysia’s flourishing gig economy.
Before becoming a Grab driver, Noorain said she wasn’t able to fulfill many of her responsibilities as a mum and had to miss several parent-teacher meetings at school due to her hectic work schedule.
She now runs an online business while driving with Grab on the side, a set-up that allows her to plan her days better and spend more time with her children.
“It feels good when your kids tell you their school fees are due and you can tell them ‘Don’t worry. I’ll earn that money for you tomorrow.’
“It’s an amazing feeling because that money comes from our blood, sweat and tears.
“With the income that we earn, we can put good food on the table while still have time to be there for our kids when they need anything.”
Overcoming gender barriers
It’s a similar tale for former merchandiser Faridah Mustaphai, who never imagined she would become a GrabFood rider one day.
Now, the mum-of-four delivers up to a whopping 30 orders on a busy day and uses her income to keep her family happy and well-fed.
Like Noorain, Faridah cites the flexible hours as a big draw for signing up and said she feels more in control of her career as a result.
She also wants to prove that women are capable of being food delivery riders and break down gender stereotypes when it comes to the job.
“Most of the GrabFood riders are men and I want to show that women can do this and match up to the guys. In any career, women can succeed as well,” Faridah told Malay Mail.
The 41-year-old said customers are often surprised when she shows up at their doorstep as many of them expect a man to be arriving with their order.
“For most customers, it’s their first time seeing a female GrabFood rider when I arrive,” she said.
She added that each day presented new challenges and exciting encounters, including getting to deliver food to the occasional celebrity.
Faridah said she had the chance to meet TV host and actor Fahrin Ahmad while making her GrabFood rounds recently.
She often starts her workday around 11am when orders for lunch begin pouring in and continues to make deliveries well into the night.
When asked how she looks out for her safety on the job, Faridah said she adheres to the same precautions that she uses in her everyday life.
“For me, risks are present anywhere. I just stay alert, be safe on the road, and keep my wits about me.
“I also have a girl gang of other female riders who all support and share advice with each other in a WhatsApp group.”
The solid camaraderie between her fellow female riders means that Faridah always has a network of support to turn to when she needs help or advice on the job.
Support from loved ones makes everything possible
It’s no easy feat to take care of two sons as a single mum but with the help of loved ones, Shee Pooi Yee has managed to find independence and financial stability as a Grab driver.
Her mother looks after her toddler sons while she’s out at work and the two often coordinate their schedules so Shee can bring home a compact income.
“I really appreciate my mum for helping me to take care of my kids while I work. Sometimes I work weekends as well because traffic is smoother and she would help me to look after my sons,” Shee told Malay Mail.
Her family and friends encouraged her to become an e-hailing driver after she tried her hand at odd jobs in various sectors, including sales, telemarketing and education.
“Grab was the most convenient career option at the time. The minute that I upgraded my probationary driving licence (P licence), I signed up to become a driver.
“Compared to my previous jobs, Grab is much more convenient for me. For example, I can go home early and look after my kids if they’re not feeling well.”
Like Faridah, Shee is also part of an online chat group with other female drivers who often share tips with each other, such as which locations are hotspots for finding jobs.
“When business is slow, you don’t want to be driving aimlessly around so it helps to have the group chat to get advice and tips from other drivers on where to go.”
As female Grab drivers, Shee and Noorain said it took time for them to get used to ferrying strangers in their cars when they first started the job.
They’ve now evolved into seasoned drivers and feel at ease striking up conversations with their passengers, knowing that Grab allows them to report any negative incidents easily through the app’s security features.
All three women said they often get the same reaction over and over again from people who hear about their work: furrowed brows paired with the question, “Aren’t you scared?”
Noorain said there was still much to do in terms of educating society about gender barriers and the steps employers should take to ensure women feel safe while on the job.
Like many other female drivers, she has taken initiatives to keep herself safe such as avoiding suspicious areas and not bringing any cash with her when she drives.
“In the beginning, it was a transition for me to get comfortable with having strangers in my car.
“It’s good that the Grab app always tracks our location and I wouldn’t want to move to another e-hailing app as a female driver.
“I also don’t carry any valuables with me in the car, not even an ATM card. I only bring a small purse with my licence in it.”
Noorain was also thankful that many of her passengers are respectful of her space and often ask if it’s okay for them to sit in the front seat next to her, a request that she is always happy to oblige.
Going the extra mile to look after their safety is always worth it, especially for Faridah who finds fulfilment in being able to complete several orders in one evening.
In fact, she prefers working after the sun sets as the weather is cooler and the roads are less congested.
“If I deliver food after dark, elderly uncles often ask me why I’m still out working. And I’ll tell them, ‘It’s 9pm, it’s still early. The night is young.’”