Li­cense to drive

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

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

she said.

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.

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