A female taxi driver? Beysharam!

I remember that well – it gave me a sense of independence

It gave me the feeling of having control

But that’s me

I was privileged enough to learn how to drive, not because I had mouths to feed

No one stopped me from driving, no one told me I couldn’t do it, no one told me I would be put behind bars or I would be a social pariah if I sat behind the steering wheel and drove from one place to another

There are many women in Pakistan and across the globe who drive and travel as they wish and as they please

It’s not even a question or an issue in so many households

It’s as natural and as simple as eating your meal or meeting friends and family

To me, driving is an empowering, relaxing experience (even though I do all the chores such as picking/dropping and the likes myself)

But there are many women in the world, and in Pakistan, who do not enjoy the same privilege; these are women who have to struggle against death threats and fatwas and social chastisement just because they want to enjoy basic rights

There are regressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia which stop women from driving altogether and the mind boggles at the idea of such a law existing in modern day world where women are climbing mountains, piloting planes and winning sports trophies

Then there are regimes such as Afghanistan, where women like Sara Bahai get death threats for being the only female taxi driver

Sara has a degree in education and is also a mechanic

But she drives a cab out of necessity – she needs to feed and support her parents and siblings

Taliban insurgents shot and killed her brother-in-law, so she took in her sister and seven nieces and nephews

Including them, she supports about a dozen people as she drives around Mazar-e-Sharif in her yellow and white Toyota Corolla

Male passengers send her death threats, abuse her, and tell her that what she is doing is against Islam

She continues to do what she does anyway

One is reminded of the verse that refers to such custodians of religion: “Bohat bey-sharm hay ye maa jo mazdoori ko nikli hai Ye bacha bhook aik din nahee sehta, ye kafir hai!” (This mother, so brazen, goes out to earn a living! This child cannot bear hunger for a day! He is an infidel!) In Pakistan, women face many such taboos as well

I am reminded of the woman who taught me how to drive

She ran a small ramshackle office and drove a shuddery white Mehran and told me a similar life story

She went into the teaching driving business because she had no other choice

Her husband died when her children were young and she had to learn a skill that could pay and sustain her family

During the time when I drove around Karachi with her, her confidence and attitude amazed me

She shifted between sternness and affection within minutes

When a bus driver or rickshaw driver maniacally crossed our car, she reprimanded me if I got freaked out

She told me it was as much as my right to be on the road as theirs

She spent her entire day picking and dropping and teaching clients (mostly female) how to drive – her sessions cost about Rs10,000 (around $100) and she told me how she put her kids through school and college and managed to give them a good and decent life by working hard and surviving the pressure of being a woman in what can only be called a man’s world

It wasn’t an easy road for Zahida Kazmi either, the first female taxi driver in Pakistan

In 1992, her husband passed away, leaving her with six children to support

Through the government’s scheme at the time, Zahida got a yellow cab on easy instalments and drove to Islamabad airport every day to pick up passengers

It was an honest business but because she was a woman earning a living in a thoroughly patriarchal society, it was in no way as simple for her as it would have been for a man

She initially kept a gun with her for her own protection

As time passed Zahida became the president of the Yellow Cab Association and she offered to teach young women how to drive

But there was little interest

Small wonder why

These women come to the forefront out of adversity

They wouldn’t have, if they hadn’t the need

They had no choice

It opens a plethora of questions for all of us who enjoy these privileges, without even thinking twice about them

There are women out there who secretly wish and fantasise about a life where they are treated as equal citizens, where learning skills doesn’t come as a privilege

There are women out there who strive day in and day out, fighting stereotypes, fighting abuses, and a million other kinds of hostile behaviours just because they have to make ends meet

And their only wish is to have the same opportunities as any other man in the world

Date:16-Mar-2015 Reference:View Original Link