Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1263, (17 - 30 September 2015)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1263, (17 - 30 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Pink taxis arrive in Cairo

A safer, easier and newer means of transportation for women is invading the streets of the capital, reports Omneya Yousry

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Al-Ahram Weekly

A new taxi service run by female drivers and catering exclusively to female passengers hit the streets of Cairo last Tuesday. The taxis offer privacy and help to counter the sexual harassment that many Egyptian women face on a daily basis.

Pink Taxi Egypt is a new initiative aimed at making female passengers feel safer when using cabs in the city. The all-female service hopes to ensure the safety and comfort of both passengers and drivers. The service, using pink cars, features female drivers and only caters to female passengers.

It is a by-order service accessed by phone, online booking or mobile app, eliminating the need to catch a cab in the street, or even to order a cab with a male driver, which may make some women uneasy, especially during later hours. The project started its operation with 20 cabs and expects to have 50 by the end of the first year.

“It all came out of society’s need for safer transportation. Not only for Egyptian women, but also for foreign women who may feel uneasy about bargaining with drivers and fear street harassment,” said Reem Fawzi, the founder of Pink Taxi.

“Egypt is rated the second country in the world for female harassment, and according to a survey 96 per cent of female tourists are exposed to verbal harassment.”

Fawzi added that the service could also help reduce another problem — women’s unemployment. “Only eight per cent of women graduates currently find jobs, and these are often restricted to certain areas. I cannot say that we are offering the solution to these problems, but we are trying to be part of the solution,” she said.

The founders of the company said they spent months preparing the launch of the service in Cairo, obtaining all the proper licencing for both the cars and drivers and conducting security checks on the drivers before the service started up.

“We faced some difficulties trying to obtain a taxi licence, due to some routine concerns from the officials concerned. Getting professional driving licences by having to stand in line with truck drivers proved hard for some of our staff as well. But these were the only problems we faced throughout the preparations,” Fawzi said.

Selecting women to make up the team wasn’t easy either. The first phase was done on Facebook where the Pink Taxi fan page announced the need for female drivers and soon received an unexpectedly long list of applicants.

Said Fawzi, “Although we train all the accepted women for two months, we have some conditions which we don’t let go of. The most important one is mastery in driving, which is tested before training. The drivers also need to be familiar with the English language, have high educational qualifications, and be aged between 25 and 45 years old.”

With regard to taxi rules and payment methods, Fawzi explained, “Payments won’t be by negotiation. When you call a Pink Taxi, a GPS locates the nearest cab and calculates the distance from point A to point B where the passenger wants to reach and payment is according to kilometres travelled. The driver is not allowed to smoke, start a conversation, or use the car radio unless the passenger asks her to.”

The Pink Taxi Academy also trains women who join the industry and teaches them about driving techniques, traffic law, customer service, first aid and car maintenance, as well as giving English lessons. “Our cars will be convenient and safe for female passengers and will be easily identifiable. Each car will have a specific code for more safety and reassurance,” Fawzi adds.

“I hope society accepts women working in a male profession, and might even be better than men at it. If I focus on people telling me it’s the wrong thing to do, there will never be change. Today we need the work of women as well as men, and while it might be hard in the beginning, society will accept it eventually,” said Aya Mohamed, one of Pink Taxi’s drivers.

“I worked in many other jobs before joining this project, but I like the idea more than anything else I have tried. It’s creative and cool. I love driving, and when you are the driver you have no manager and this is great for me,” she adds. Mohamed described the taxi industry as a masculine one, however, though this was something she hopes to change.

“People sometimes say women belong at home or in the kitchen. People point at me and say, ‘Female taxi driver’, as if I’m doing something wrong. But now I almost feel encouraged by their looking at me, and the fear I had inside has started to decrease,” she said.

Women at large have also taken to the idea, with many wondering if the service will be available where they live. “We are available only in pre-agreed areas inside Cairo, which does not include communal districts. These districts don’t rely on taxis as a means of transportation anyway for economic reasons,” Fawzi commented.

The Pink Taxi service has received lots of encouragement, yet it has also had to face some criticism from both sexes. “I’ve always been a huge fan of the concept. I’m thrilled it’s finally in Egypt. Good luck and hopefully all females will now be safer,” said Reem Talaat, a Cairo resident.

“In a city like Cairo, our priority should be looking for as many practical solutions as possible to our problems, and the Pink Taxis are one such solution. Frankly, I would prefer to suffer on public transportation rather than take the risk of being alone with a male driver,” commented Yasmeen Abdel-Aziz, also a Cairo resident.

According to Assem Mohamed, separating men and women on public transportation is not new. “For years, we’ve had women-only cars on the Cairo subway, and this protects them from harassment. But the new project promotes equality by allowing women to occupy jobs customarily reserved for men, such as driving taxis.”

However, Dalia Gad and Mai Mohamed, both Cairo residents, said that although they liked the idea of women drivers they were afraid that women would not be able to drive as well as men. They also said that having to call the taxi before a trip could be an obstacle.

The idea was rejected outright by Mohamed Safwat, former head of Behira governorate traffic department. “I consider such a project as the segregation of women and a naive attempt to solve a problem that will in turn have dangerous effects on social and security problems.”

He believes the solution to harassment and gender-based violence requires hard work, proper planning and studying the root causes, as opposed to creating areas designated for women that restrict and isolate them.

“This project is going to fail. How many female passengers are going to take these taxis every day?” asked Yasser Emam, a taxi driver.

Heba Magdy, a women’s rights activist, expressed her disappointment in the project saying that the “Pink Taxis are only for women who can afford taxis and ignores other women who use public transportation.”

For her, such projects are useless if the law is not strictly applied to sexual offenders and if no effort is made to change the culture of Egyptian society.

“What this project does is lock women up instead of changing their surroundings. Starting a scheme of this sort will lead women to see taxis driven by men as dangerous, and there will never be enough Pink Taxis to accommodate all women who use taxis,” Magdy said.

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