‘Lady Go’ taxi safely steers Baghdad’s women through cultural barriers

Having restaurants, cafes and taxis exclusively for women is “a limited reaction” that does not effectively curtail harassment.
Saturday 12/10/2019
Fewer risks. A “Lady Go” taxi drives in Baghdad.(Oumayma Omar)
Fewer risks. A “Lady Go” taxi drives in Baghdad.(Oumayma Omar)

BAGHDAD - Baydaa’ Anwar is among female taxi drivers in Baghdad employed by “Lady Go,” a new service catering to women fearing sexual harassment while empowering them socially and professionally.

Anwar said she is not afraid to challenge cultural barriers to provide for her family. “I don’t feel any embarrassment or fear working as a taxi driver. On the contrary, I believe it is a great achievement that breaks the male monopoly on the street,” Anwar said.

“I never completed a school education, which makes my chances to find a job very limited. Being hired as a driver in a women’s taxi network was a positive step in my life. It helps me sustain my only child for whom I am fully responsible after divorcing my husband.”

“Even men feel more comfortable when their wives and daughters use women’s taxis instead of ridesharing services like Uber or Kareem, which are provided by men. The feeling of safety and security is the main incentive for using our service without risking harassment and pestering by male drivers,” Anwar added.

In addition to empowering women, the “Lady Go” initiative was welcomed by Iraqi women who prefer to be driven by other women.

Female taxi drivers are a rarity in Iraq and generally looked down upon because many see it as an “unladylike” profession. Nonetheless, it is empowering women and carries fewer risks because clients are exclusively females, said Marwa Majed, 30, a government employee who commutes to work in taxis.

Majed said she fully supports the idea of being driven by women and noted that male drivers are often provocative, tactless and indiscrete. “They try to encroach on personal matters without any reason, just to provoke and harass women,” she said.

“When we knew about ‘Lady Go’ through social media, my husband hired one of the drivers to take me to work daily. It was the first time I felt relaxed sitting in the front seat next to the (female) driver. Usually, I sat in the back to avoid being pestered,” Majed said.

“Beginning such a project is kind of resistance or revolt against those who want to restrain women and undermine their capacities in holding responsibilities and exercising jobs that were out of reach.”

University student Ahlam Saadi questioned the sustainability of the project. “Women don’t have the same capacities as men in handling emergencies in the street, such as unexpected mechanical breakdowns or embarrassing situations in light of common and undeterred traffic violations and encroachments,” Saadi said.

She suggested limiting female taxi drivers to certain areas and certain hours, mostly during the day. “Unlike women, men can work late hours and go to remote areas that are risky for women,” Saadi added.

There are cultural barriers for women in various fields in Iraq and having female taxi drivers is regarded as strange in conservative Iraqi society. Derogatory comments and gestures are thrown around, a reflection of persistent misogyny in Iraqi society.

Project founder Shahd Mohamad said she was undeterred by cultural barriers, stressing that the aim of “Lady Go” is to empower women and reduce their dependency on men by creating jobs.

“The project targets widows and divorcees, mainly the marginalised who have little chance to be employed,” said Mohamad, noting that men and women have, for the most part, welcomed the idea.

Psychologist Naz Cindy said the increase in sexual harassment incidents in Iraq has “detrimental consequences on women and children.”

“Harassment is a growing phenomenon in Iraq that is being exacerbated by the absence of laws or failure to implement them. Because of social taboos, women avoid reporting cases of harassment in a society that almost always blame them for misdemeanours,” Cindy said.

She said having restaurants, cafes and taxis exclusively for women is “a limited reaction” that does not effectively curtail harassment.

“Women are still being harassed in the street or in their workplace,” Cindy said. “Measures should be taken to curb this phenomenon including raising awareness about the problem, countering extremist thinking that demeans and belittles women and implementing strict deterrent laws.”

New service. A “Lady Go” taxi in Baghdad.(Oumayma Omar)