I recently met 41-year-old Florence Marfo at a programme with all-female participants in Accra where she shared her experience as a long-distance bus driver.
She was at the programme on the invitation of the organisers and was greeted with a rapturous applause when she was introduced as the first and only female driver with Ghana’s biggest transport company, VIP Jeoun Company Limited.
After her brief interaction, the Daily Graphic engaged her in a conversation on the journey into a profession which is traditionally seen as the preserve of men.
A polytechnic graduate, Ms Marfo said her greatest consideration was the safety of her passengers.
The mother of three, who has been with the company for three years, stated: “Yes, I have the responsibility to take good care of my bus, but the safety of my passengers is of utmost importance to me.”
Finding herself in the midst of about 800 drivers in the thriving transport company does not make her unnerved.
Rather, it has motivated her to give meaning to the age-old slogan that: “Whatever a man can do, a woman can do better.”
Ms Marfo mentioned that she wanted to demystify the long-held notion in the country that certain professions were reserved for men.
“My bus owner, Agya Wiase, whom I owe a lot of gratitude, has advised me to always pray to God for protection before I take the wheels each working day. I have been doing this and God has been good to me as I have never experienced an accident,” she told the Daily Graphic.
She operates on some of the longest routes in the country, including Accra-Kumasi, Accra-Techiman, Accra-Sunyani and Accra-Wa.
A native of Obo Kwahu in the Eastern Region, Ms Marfo’s interest in driving dates back to her student days at the Takoradi Polytechnic.
However, after completing her course of study in 2002, she took to hairdressing and later operated a restaurant at Adabraka in Accra.
The journey into the transport industry began in 2005 when she joined the Metro Mass Transit (MMT) as a conductor.
Those days, female conductors were very few at the MMT, but her ultimate aim was to become a driver at the MMT.
In 2009, then President J.E.A. Mills gave a directive to the MMT to take steps to employ female drivers, and that began her journey into the profession she is so proud of.
“Later that year, our management selected a number of women to go to Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire to learn driving heavy-duty vehicles and I was one of them,” she recalled.
Ms Marfo said at the end of the three-and-half months training, she emerged the best in the group.
“The only problem I had was the French language, which I struggled to learn,” she stated.
Having emerged the best in the group, she became the chief driver of the group.
The Abidjan training did not qualify them to handle a bus, so the group had to continue the training in Ghana, which they did and passed out successfully.
Currently, she holds a Driver’s Licence ‘F’, which allows her to drive heavy-duty vehicles, including trailers.
In 2010, she began to handle an MMT bus as a full-time driver, plying the Accra-Tema and Accra-Ashaiman routes, and was transferred to Kumasi in 2015.
Explaining why she joined the VIP company, Ms Marfo said it was a challenge to seek new opportunities.
“It was not all rosy. There was no female driver at VIP so some people tried to discourage my car owner from employing me,” she stated.
But according to the female driver, her bus owner brushed off the attempts to dissuade him from employing her; and she was given a bus to drive, but with a male driver who assisted her for a month before she completely took over the vehicle.
“Now I am using a new bus” she said.
Because of her safety record, she indicated, the bus owner had bought her a saloon car free of charge in addition to 100 bags of cement to support her building project.
Ms Marfo indicated that Ghana’s roads were very dangerous to use, mentioning broken-down vehicles and the lack of road marking as some of the dangers on the road.
“These make driving very dangerous, especially at night,” she said.
She, therefore, appealed to the authorities to do something about the situation because human lives were precious.