Female taxi drivers: The debate continues

An article published by Al-Masry Al-Youm earlier this month about female taxi drivers stirred some interesting debate on Facebook.

The story featured Enass Hammam, one of six female cab drivers employed by the Cairo Cab Company. Hammam took pride in her work, stating in the article that she enjoys driving both men and women. The piece attempts to use Hammam’s personal experience as an example of a female Egyptian challenging traditions by working in a male-dominated field.

A picture of Hammam in a pink taxi, one of many women-only cabs set to be deployed in Cairo in the near future, was posted on the Facebook page of Al-Masry Al-Youm. Readers were encouraged to post their responses to the article and photo.

Many Facebook users felt that, far from being a symbol of independence, Hammam represented women’s isolation and discrimination. They also worried that female taxi drivers would be exposed to criminal acts and harassment. Many readers, it seems, could not accept the notion asserted in the article that women-only taxis would provide much-needed protection for female commuters in Cairo. Many considered the measure “trivial.”

Others disagreed, viewing it as a valid response to Cairo’s rampant gender inequality. Sarah Haroun wondered, “What’s the problem with having women taxi drivers?” Antar Mohamed supported the idea of female taxi drivers, considering it a way to protect women from criminal acts. He recalled an episode in which a group of women were attacked and raped by a male taxi driver.

Commenter Hammouda replied, “But the accident also happened in the street. So why don’t we paint the streets pink?”

The color of the taxis sparked its own debate. Some viewed the pink-colored taxis as a cosmetic solution to a deep problem. Gehad Tym suggested that this shallow measure might provoke further discrimination against women, rather than inspiring deeper discussion toward a solution.

Some claimed the initiative reinforces gender segregation. Hammouda compared hiring female taxi drivers to the women-only metro cars. He asked women, “Ok we have this metro experience in front of us. Why are you still riding in men’s cars?” But for many women, riding in a women-only metro car is simply a way of avoiding men, and does not get to the root cause of sexual harassment in Cairo.

But Hammam and the Cairo Cab Company restated their mission of equality. At the Cairo Cab Company, female taxi drivers have the same duties as their male counterparts; all drivers are assigned both male and female clients. Female drivers, however, are forbidden by law from driving past 7 PM. It is Hammam’s opinion that giving women the chance to drive taxis is a legitimate measure to integrate both genders more equally in the workforce.

The discussion on Facebook provided valuable insight on the phenomenon of female taxi drivers, revealing divergent social values with regards to the complex gender dynamics of Egypt.

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