Zahra takes a cab to work every day—a designated driver picks her up at star 7.40 am, and drops her at her office at 7.55 am, albeit Kabul traffic. He later picks her at the end of her work day at 4pm and drops her back home.
If Zahra needs to meet her friends over the weekend, or travel elsewhere, her brother is gracious enough to drive her around Kabul. It’s a comfortable arrangement, but Zahra has yearned for more—to be able to drive for herself.
She has, several times, watched her brother get behind the steering wheel, switch on the engine, and pull the mighty vehicle that is their white corolla out of its parking space, into the roads of Kabul. She has watched with much admiration as he commanded not just their car, but also the roads that otherwise seem so inaccessible to someone like Zahra. “I avoid travelling alone, and would never take a taxi on my own,” she shared. “Being able to drive will not only give me control over my own movements, but will also be a safer alternate to taking cabs,” she added, referring to the many incidence of theft, harassment and kidnappings by unsolicited cab drivers.
It also creates an opportunity for women to get into the taxi driving business—making a living ferrying other women—an opportunity the enterprising Zardozi women are eager to grab.
“How wonderful it would be if Afghan women had the services of a female taxi driver—someone they and their families could trust,” Zahra pointed out. “It will not just be useful to the women who take up driving, but also to other women who will have greater mobility with a female driver at hand,” she reasoned.
The idea, as Rahima Paiman, marketing development manager at Zardozi, explained was derived from the sole Afghan female taxi driver from Mazar-i-Shrarif. “Sahra Bahai has been driving for the last 11 years and has been a taxi driver for the last four,” Rahima narrated.
Challenges—first steps are never easy
In a highly conservative society like Afghanistan, where women are still grappling for basic rights, of course, it won’t be as easy to start a women-only taxi service. “We are still in the draft stages of the plan and are conducting risk assessment, and identifying challenges that will be posed,” explained Rahima.
For instance, the first batch of female drivers will only cater to female clientele—mostly students and young professionals.
The biggest challenge for these women, though, will be in getting societal acceptance. Bahai, 41, who is now a veteran of sorts in this field shared how strenuous it was for her to break into the industry. She often faced verbal and physical abuse, her taxi was vandalised on many occasions. “While talking to Sahra about her experiences, I found how difficult the process was for her, but she continued anyway, because support from the female community was equally overwhelming,” shared Rahima. “First steps are never easy,” Rahima explained. “The success of this project will require a lot of patience and hard work, but Zardozi women are, if anything, relentless in their pursuits,” she added, confident that Afghan women were harbinger of social change.