In recent years, women-only taxi services offering convenient and safe transit have sprung up in major cities all over the globe. These “pink taxis,” driven by women for women, offer a variety of benefits — not only giving women the option of avoiding harassment by male drivers, but also offer employment opportunities, business ownership, and in some cases, empowered transit in funky, candy pink rides decked out with lady magazines, beauty kits, and alarm buttons.
In Beirut, they’re styled as fierce competition to the standard transit system, brought about by one woman’s entrepreneurial vision, and follows similar models set up in Dubai, Cairo and Tehran. In Kuwait and London they’re “women-run businesses” offering “secure modes of transit” helping female customers feel less vulnerable when riding alone with a male driver. Moscow’s taxis are all about girl power, while Mexico City’s pink taxis are fantastically “girly” while helping address the problem of leering male drivers. But Yemen? Yemen doesn’t have a women-only taxi service and that’s because Yemen is too tribal and slow to change, to even consider allowing women to drive taxis.
Well, that’s according to a recent article by Radio Netherlands Worldwide. While initially promising (and Fugees inspiring), the title completely mislead me into thinking a new, pink revolution had already hit the streets of Sana’a: ”Pink taxis for Yemen: ready or not.” Apparently, not.
It didn’t take long to realize the point of the article was not to celebrate a new social and entrepreneurial opportunity for women — but to use the absence of pink taxis as a social commentary, highlighting gender segregation and the restriction of women’s employment due to “tribal tradition.”
The article leads by over-emphasizing Yemen’s culture of gender segregation. “Men and women practically lead separate lives,” with segregated weddings, women-only Internet cafes, and asks, “if so many places have separate facilities for women, then why are there no women-only taxis?” It’s a fair enough question. Taking a taxi with a male driver is awkward for many women and while not every male driver is a predator, there are many documented cases of sexual harassment by taxi drivers in Yemen. So in a country that is so obviously divided upon gender lines, why hasn’t segregation entered into the transportation sector?