So­mali fe­male taxi driver helps em­power women

Sahra Ali — who is also a mid­wife, phar­ma­cist and doc­tor — wants to be a role model for her fam­ily

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - NEWS - Matthew Vick­ery

HARGEISA, SO­MA­LIA Rush­ing around in a white phar­ma­cist’s coat, Sahra Ali tends to a blood­ied young boy in a small room at­tached to the phar­macy she runs.

“She’s the hard­est-work­ing per­son in the coun­try,” cus­tomer Ab­del­ra­heem Adil re­marked.

The 34-year-old So­mali woman has grown quite a rep­u­ta­tion as a mid­wife, phar­ma­cist and lo­cal doc­tor in this capital of So­ma­lia’s au­ton­o­mous re­gion of So­ma­liland.

But it’s Ali’s new­est job — the re­gion’s first fe­male taxi driver — that has re­ally caught at­ten­tion in the city of 1.5 mil­lion.

“Many peo­ple are sur­prised; they can’t be­lieve it,” Ali said. “They stop my taxi in the street, look in­side and see me and say, ‘It’s im­pos­si­ble. You’re a woman!’ ”

In tra­di­tion­ally con­ser­va­tive so­ci­eties around the globe where op­por­tu­ni­ties for women are sup­pressed, more and more pioneers such as Ali are tak­ing on the role of fam­ily bread­win­ner and chal­leng­ing stereo­types about women in the work­place in the process.

Other fe­male bar­rier smash­ers in­clude Na­dia Ahmed, the first Pales­tinian woman to drive a taxi, and an all-fe­male team of me­chan­ics in Iraq. These women are not just break­ing bound­aries but also thriv­ing in tra­di­tion­ally male-ori­ented jobs.

Ali, a mother of eight, said she doesn’t just want to pro­vide more in­come for her fam­ily.

“I want to be a role model for them and teach my daugh­ters how to be hard­work­ing,” she told USA TO­DAY. “Peo­ple that see me in my taxi may say it’s im­pos­si­ble that a woman is do­ing this job, but I want to show them it’s not.”

Ali fell into the taxi busi­ness ac­ci­den­tally be­cause of mis­for­tune. Her fam­ily pur­chased a car years ago so her hus­band could work as a taxi driver, but just weeks af­ter their sav­ings had been spent on the ve­hi­cle, her hus­band had a stroke.

“When my hus­band be­came sick, those were dark days. I was five months preg­nant, and my mother-in-law had just bro­ken her leg, as well, so I was tak­ing care of both of them and my seven chil­dren,” she re­called. “As soon as he be­came sick, I knew I had to work for the two of us to pro­vide for my fam­ily.

“Women are of­ten happy to see me driv­ing, but many men see me and refuse to get in,” she said. “They don’t want a woman to be in the driv­ing seat. It hap­pens a lot.”

De­spite the re­jec­tions, Ali said she’s proud to be car­ry­ing out a job that was pre­vi­ously done just by men. Fe­male cus­tomers feel em­pow­ered when they stop the taxi on the street and see the driver is a woman, she said. Many now call her di­rectly when they need a ride.

A typ­i­cal day starts at 5 a.m., when Ali drives her taxi be­fore start­ing work as a mid­wife at a lo­cal hos­pi­tal at 8 a.m. Af­ter fin­ish­ing her hos­pi­tal du­ties at 2 p.m., she opens her phar­macy with help from her old­est child, 13, af­ter he fin­ishes school. She then works in the phar­macy or driv­ing the taxi into the night, of­ten get­ting home at 11 p.m.

Ali of­ten com­bines her jobs — pick­ing up cus­tomers in her cab while de­liv­er­ing or­ders from the phar­macy.

The gru­el­ing work pace is up­lift­ing, Ali said.

“Now I feel happy,” she said. “When my hus­band had his stroke and I was preg­nant, there was no one to help; life was hard. But I feel re­laxed now that I’m able to work and earn enough for my fam­ily.

“Just re­cently I saw an­other fe­male taxi driver,” Ali said with ex­cite­ment. “We saw each other at a traf­fic stop and waved and said hello.

“Be­fore, it was just me do­ing this alone. To know an­other woman has de­cided to go into the taxi busi­ness as well is a great feel­ing,” she said. “I’ll be happy if women here who are in poverty or who are wi­d­ows or have a bad sit­u­a­tion at home start work­ing and do­ing the same as me.”

MATTHEW VICK­ERY

The day be­gins at 5 a.m. for Sahra Ali, talk­ing to a cus­tomer in the phar­macy she runs in Hargeisa, So­ma­lia.

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