Women at wheel of ‘Pink Taxis’ challenge Jordan norms
Amman - Nisrin Akoubeh checks the oil and water before getting into her taxi and pulling into Amman’s heavy traffic for another day of shuttling other women across the Jordanian capital.
The red-haired mother of three works a gruelling 10-hour shift in her taxi — a rare occupation for a woman in a conservative Muslim society.
“I want to break the culture of shame and prove to Arabs and the Arab world that women are strong and are able to work in any area that could be monopolised by men,” she said.
“Women have been able to drive normal cars for a long time, so why shouldn’t they drive taxis?”
Akoubeh is among those who want to turn taxi driving into an acceptable profession for women, challenging Jordan’s social norms. The 31-year-old widow and former nurse drives one of the fleet of Pink Taxis, which are driven by women for women passengers. Many of their customers are nurses on late shifts, university students or mothers who shuttle children to and from nursery or school.
Wearing a pink shirt and blue tie as she navigates Amman’s congested roads, Akoubeh said she often picks up visiting Saudi women whose husbands do not allow them to ride unaccompanied with male taxi drivers.
“I thank God that I have lots of customers,” she said.
Ghena al-Asmar, a 19-year-old student who often uses the service, said she feels safer riding in the women-only cars.
“When I finish my studies at university in the evening or when I leave the house at night, I prefer to take these taxis because it is a woman taking a woman somewhere,” she said.
“I don’t think there’s any shame in a woman working as a taxi driver. It’s a profession like any other profession and it shouldn’t be limited to men,” she said.
Approximately 500,000 women in Jordan have driver’s licences, about 20% of the country’s drivers, the national traffic department said.
Akoubeh said some people give her encouragement but “there is always someone to remind me that ‘this is men’s work and you should be in the home’.”
Jordan is relatively liberal in terms of women’s rights compared to other countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, which does not allow women behind the wheel at all.
Even in Jordan, however, conservative attitudes are common.
Mohammad al-Ahmad, a 50-year-old civil servant, said driving a taxi is not appropriate work for women.
“We live in a conservative Eastern society governed by tribal customs and traditions,” he said. “There are lots of jobs and professions women can do that fit their abilities and preserve their place in society, without them being seen in a bad light.”
Eid Abu al-Haj, head of an investment group behind a company that runs the Pink Taxi service, said encouraging women to drive is a service to society.
“Women are more careful and cause fewer accidents,” he said. “By providing these cars exclusively for women, we are hoping to give women more comfort and privacy.”
The service began March 21st, when most of the Arab world marks Mother’s Day.
“We started with five cars just for women, with women drivers, and now we have ten drivers, between 30 and 45 years old, and we’re hoping to expand soon,” said Abu al- Haj.
The concept has been tried in Cairo, another conservative city where women taxi drivers were previously unheard of.
Akoubeh said she gets a good salary, health insurance, social security and holidays and she can choose what hours to work. Other taxi drivers in Amman say they take home at most $35 a day after paying a share of their fares to the companies that own the cars.
Driving in Amman is not easy. Home to 4 million people and 1.4 million vehicles, including more than 11,000 taxis, the city is prone to choking congestion.
“It takes a lot of concentration and care, especially during rush hours,” Akoubeh said.
However, she said she enjoys the work.
“I get to know new people every day,” she said. “I enjoy my conversations with them and hearing their stories and experiences.”