License to drive
A group of women in Jordan are challenging social norms by trying to show that taxi drivers don’t all have to be men.
Nisrin Akoubeh checks the oil and water before getting into her taxi and pulling into Amman’s heavy traffic for another day of shuttling fellow women across the Jordanian capital.
The red-haired mother of three works a grueling 10-hour shift in her taxi -- a rare occupation for a woman in this society.
“Women have been able to drive normal cars for a long time, so why shouldn’t they drive taxis?” she said.
Akoubeh is one of a group of women who want to turn taxi driving into an acceptable profession for women, challenging Jordan’s social norms.
The 31-year-old widow and former nurse drives one of a fleet of 10 “Pink Taxis” driven by women, for women passengers.
Most of their customers are nurses on late shifts, university students or mothers whose children they shuttle to and from nursery or school.
Wearing a pink shirt and blue tie as she navigates Amman’s congested roads, Akoubeh often also picks up visiting Saudi women whose husbands don’t allow them to ride unaccompanied with male taxi drivers.
“I thank God that I have lots of customers,” she said.
Ghena al-Asmar, a 19-yearold student who often uses the service, said she feels safer riding the women-only cars.
“When I finish my studies at university in the evening or when I leave the house at night, I prefer to take these taxis because it’s a woman taking a woman somewhere,” she said.
“I don’t think there’s any shame in a woman working as a taxi driver — it’s a profession like any other profession, and it shouldn’t be limited to men,”
I prefer to take these taxis because it’s a woman taking a woman somewhere.” Ghena al-Asmar, a 19-year-old student who often uses the service because she feels safer riding the women-only cars
Around half a million women in Jordan have driving licences, about 20 percent of the country’s total drivers, according to the national traffic department.
Akoubeh said some people give her encouragement but “there is always someone to remind me that ‘this is men’s work and you should be in the home.’”
The service was launched on March 21, when most of the Arab world marks Mother’s Day.
“We started with five cars just for women, with women drivers, and now we have 10 drivers, between 30 and 45 years old, and we’re hoping to expand soon,” said Abu al-Haj.
The concept has already been tried and tested in Cairo, another city where women taxi drivers were previously unheard of.
Akoubeh said she has a good salary, health insurance, social security and holidays, and she can choose what hours to work.
Other taxi drivers in Amman say they take home at most 25 dinars ($35) a day after paying a share of their takings to the companies that own the cars.