The Citizen (Gauteng)

Accelerati­ng women’s lib



Gender inequality ‘alarmingly high’ in Somalia and car bombs regularly go off around the city.

At 19 years old, Asha Mohamed is divorced and drives a taxi in Somalia, defying convention­s to support her family in one of the world’s most conservati­ve and dangerous countries.

For the past year, she has crisscross­ed the capital, Mogadishu, in her white taxi, with a faux fur throw covering her dashboard.

Her career choice was driven by passion, but also necessity, after she divorced her husband – whom she married at age 16 – and was left to take care of her two children and her mother.

Taxi driving in Mogadishu is not only typically reserved for men, but is also dangerous in a city where Al-Shabaab Islamists regularly set off car bombs at intersecti­ons and security checkpoint­s. In a recent blast, on 13 February, three people were killed and eight wounded.

But car-loving Mohamed, who enjoys playing racing video games on her phone, was not put off.

“In my childhood, it was my passion to be a driver one day, but I was not thinking that I will work as a taxi driver,” she said.

She was given the opportunit­y by a relatively new company called Rikaab taxi.

“The number of women working as taxi drivers were small for security reasons, but ... the number of women taxi drivers is gradually growing,” said Ilham Abdullahi Ali, the female finance chief at Rikaab Taxi.

Only three of the company’s 2 000 taxis in Mogadishu are driven by women.

Mohamed earns up to $40 (about R590) a day, allowing her to take care of her family, and hopes that by defying tradition, she can contribute to changing the minds of her countrymen about the role of women.

Clients are often taken off guard when they climb into the white taxi and see Mohamed, wearing light make-up and a colourful hijab, behind the steering wheel.

Sadiq Dahir, a student at the Salaam University, admits he was surprised, but that his view has changed.

“Recently, I have been using this Rikaab taxi service. Although it is male-dominated work, I prefer the female taxi drivers because they drive safely and arrive on time.”

The Somali capital, situated on a pristine white coastline with turquoise waters, remains dogged by violence, a decade after the Al-Qaeda-linked AlShabaab was ousted from the city by African Union peacekeepe­rs fighting alongside government troops.

The 1991 overthrow of president Siad Barre’s military regime ushered in decades of chaos and civil war. Thirty years later, the internatio­nally backed federal government has yet to gain full control or hold the first one-person, onevote ballot since 1969, which had been promised this year.

Even the holding of a complex indirect vote has been delayed by political infighting, which recently led to gun battles between opposing camps in the capital.

Women’s rights are low on the list of priorities and the most recent data, in 2012, showed the country among the bottom four on a United Nations gender equality index.

It described gender inequality as “alarmingly high”, in a country where 98% of women have undergone genital mutilation.

“Women suffer severe exclusion and inequality in all dimensions of the index – health, employment and labour market participat­ion,” it noted.

“Somali girls are given away in marriage very young and violence against girls and women is widespread.” –

I prefer a female taxi driver

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