Female hacks in Iran

Women-only taxi services empower female passengers and those at the wheel.

Published September 12, 2006 4:46PM (EDT)

The Financial Times has a great story today about a women's taxi service in Tehran. Women-only taxi agencies are apparently gaining recognition in Iran, where Islamic clerics carefully monitor women's public roles. The drivers are required by Islamic law to cover their hair and bodies, and they only transport women or couples with children, never men alone.

Taxis are the most common way to get around Tehran, and women-only taxi services benefit both drivers and passengers. For the hacks themselves, many but not all of whom are married, driving offers them financial opportunity and freedom. As cleric Zabiolla Rezaie gracefully put it in an interview with the paper, "Women need to make ends meet - that's why they're here ... By working, they do not become a burden on society." Great!

But that's not all. The drivers are also providing protection for female passengers, who can get around town without fear of sexual assault or violence at the mercy of male drivers. One female cabbie, Simin Nasseri, explained that one of her customers loves single-sex service because she has a jealous husband who got mad whenever she was driven anywhere by a man.

Masoumeh Ahouwan, who has led a campaign to get women-only taxi services recognized and who is fighting for an all-female taxi syndicate that would offer drivers classes in self-defense and car repair, said that her main motivation is protecting women from rape and murder. Her own daughter experienced the wrath of a scorned male driver after he picked her up from a violin lesson and flirted with her unsuccessfully. When Ahouwan called the company to complain, it said that it had hired the driver the day before, without having checked him out.

This is such a compelling story about women finding ways to unravel modes of oppression -- professional, financial and physical. But how depressing is it that driver-on-passenger assault is so prevalent that we need women-only taxi services to begin with? And not only in Tehran. There are also all-female cab agencies in London, Cork County, Ireland, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and women-only train cars in Japan and Egypt.

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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