August 15, 2022
BEIJING – Zhao Liping, a thin woman who is 1.63 meters tall, does not fit the conventional idea of a truck driver. However, the 33-year-old mother from Bozhou, Anhui province, has been a trucker for 10 years and has driven more than 1.5 million kilometers.
According to an annual report on China’s truckers, published by Social Sciences Academic Press in 2020, women make up about 4.2 percent of the 30 million truckers across the country. That means about 1.3 million truckers are female.
In 2018, women made up roughly 2 percent of truck drivers.
Although their numbers remain small, increasing women are taking to the wheels in China. The report shows the average age of female truckers is 35, and more than 86 percent of them are married.
Inspired by her father, who is also a trucker, Zhao decided to drive trucks after graduating from a vocational school.
Although it is a career in which women could face more challenges than men, Zhao insisted on breaking such stereotypical notions to prove that women can do the job just as men can.
It took her almost a year to learn all the traffic rules and get through the training to obtain her A2-level driver’s license.
Compared to a regular 9 am-to-5 pm job, Zhang says she enjoys the adventures on the road and the independence during driving. To her, driving a truck is both hard work and rewarding.
When Zhao started to drive a truck 10 years ago, there were few female truckers on the road.
“At that time, most trucks had manual operations, which required the driver to use two clutch pedals and shift gears manually, and the steering wheel felt heavy,” Zhao says, adding that things are better now with the introduction of automatic transmission and the “female-friendly design” of rigs.
“Now, female drivers are on the rise,” Zhao says.
She can get into her 4-meter-tall rig with agility, and usually a 23-meter-long trailer is hooked up behind a truck. Maneuvering a trailer truck can be tough but not for Zhao.
However, gender stereotypes do exist.
Zhao says in her 10 years as a driver, she has experienced plenty of negative remarks.
“When I pull into a loading dock, I often meet skepticism from the men nearby. They ask, ‘Where is the driver? Bring him to load,'” she recalls.
Zhao says being a professional trucker, no matter male or female, is not easy, which requires long hours on the road with irregular hours and physical strain.
But in Zhao’s eyes, gender doesn’t matter, because the job is nondiscriminatory, paid based on the kilometers, hours driven and the freight weight.
The longest journey Zhao has undertaken so far is driving a truck in shifts with her sister-in-law for more than 1,800 kilometers within 24 hours from Guangzhou, South China’s Guangdong province, to Jinan, East China’s Shandong province.
Ma Dan, a professor at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, says women and men face the same challenges as drivers, but for women, there is still more to get in terms of improved safety and equal treatment.
As women are a part of the freight industry, she calls for logistics companies, industry organizations and governments to involve the group and help them to seek equal treatment with the same dignity and respect shown to their male counterparts.
In March, the China Women’s Development Foundation and engine manufacturer Cummins China jointly launched a project to empower female truckers.
The project aims to address issues and offer counseling to about 3,000 female truck drivers in three years on how to stay safe and balance work and life. It will also hold mentorship programs and forums where they can discuss more issues such as physical and mental health and safety.