Written By: Fares Anam
Article Date: Feb 22, 2011 - 8:46:57 PM
Samah, 25, lives in Sana’a. She woke up one morning to go to work. She stopped a taxi and asked the driver to take her to work. While in the backseat, she noticed the taxi driver staring at her in the car mirror.
She was then surprised to sees him turn towards her and then he tried to fondle her body. She screamed and quickly got out of the taxi. Samah said that this was the third time that she had been exposed to sexual harassment by taxi drivers.
“They look in the mirror of the taxi, talk bad words in any subject, even if the girl doesn’t talk. This is harassment,” said Samah. And she is not alone in facing this problem.
A.E., 23, is from Sana’a and is a student at Sana’a University. She decided to take a taxi one day because she was late for a university lecture. As she drove in the taxi, the driver began asking her about the place she was going. She told him again that she wanted to go to Sana’a University. The driver then began ask her about her name and spoke words of love.
“I loved you when I saw you,” he told her and followed that up with some more obscene words. Enraged, she flew out of the taxi in hurry. Then she took another taxi but faced the same problem. And so vowed never to take a taxi again. Scores of women in Sana’a complain that taxi drivers often harass them. These drivers, they say, suffer from ignorance, a disdain for women and from a bias against women who leave their homes to work.
Shameful behavior Women say that these ill-behaved drivers will try many tactics to get the attention of females. Sua’ad al-Qadasi, chairperson of the Women’s Forum for Research and Training, said that she has heard a number of stories from women who have experienced taxi driver harassment. “I have received a lot of complaints from women saying that they were exposed to shocking words and some bad people who touch their bodies when they use taxis and especially also in buses,” said al-Qadasi. “This is shameful behavior and against Yemeni traditions. This bad behavior is due to the lack of education among people.” She also said that some men ask girls why they are leaving their homes and tell them that they should stay at home where they belong.
“The harassment starts with bad words. Other people do nothing and stay silent and then men touch the girl’s bodies,” said al-Qadasi. Those who can afford taxis do so because this is often the most efficient way to get from place to place. Women sometimes also assume that taxis will be safer than taking a bus where men commonly will try to put their hands on a woman’s knee.
Recently, with the entry of private sector investment in the public transport sector, some improved taxi services have emerged. Women feel safer in cars associated with a reliable taxi company. Several transport companies have been emerged recently in Sana’a. This includes the Raha Company which launched in Yemen in February 2005. It was followed by other companies, such as Marhaba and Karowah.
These companies use metered cars with standard fares. These cars allow passengers the opportunity to avoid the hassle of haggling for a good price. Also, many women have turned to these taxi companies because they feel safer in cars associated with a specific company that can be easily tracked. New companies are safer Majedah Ali, a university student, said that she preferred newer taxi companies. “They have controlled tariffs. There is harassment from the owners of old taxis because there is nobody that you can complain to about them. But those taxi drivers from better companies cannot do anything bad because there is a company behind them,” she said. Most Yemeni women prefer to avoid unmarked taxis because drivers in these vehicles often harass their female passengers. However, sometimes there is little choice.
Safa, who has always taken taxis, said that if she is in a hurry to go somewhere and finds an old taxi she would still take it. “But if I was not in a hurry, I would look for a new taxi. This makes the journey more relaxing for me. Sometimes I am exposed to harassment from the owners of taxis and they send me bad hints. Then I get out immediately,” said Safa. “New taxis have increased significantly and this will badly hurt the old taxi owners.” Saba al-Jaradi said that she prefers to take only new taxis because she feels comfortable and safe in them. “The old taxis are so terrible and it is broken and unclean.
I have not been exposed to harassment by taxi drivers, but I heard from my friends who received such harassment from disrespectful taxi drivers,” she said. Ebrahim Abdullah, a taxi driver, said that females are the reason behind bad behavior from taxi drivers.
“They do many things to tempt the taxi drivers, like their wearing attractive clothes and displaying tempting moves,” he said. Adnan Abdullah, another taxi driver, said that there are many drivers who do not have morals and no honor and they use their car as a place for harassment. “There are women who exploit drivers and play with them.
The extreme poverty is the main reason that the drivers resort to such things,” he said. The owners of old taxis feel disappointed and hopeless because the new taxis are taking their customers away from them. People prefer the new taxis for their cleanliness, modernity, affordability and safety. “Work has become very bad and it’s getting worse every day because the new taxis have spread. Most people who have money buy new taxis to earn more money. It is an investment,” said Salem Mohsen who has an old taxi.
Lack of religious beliefs Raha and other new taxis have had a good reception from Yemeni people but has encountered a number of rumors originating from old taxi owners. Some of these older drivers say that the new taxis are also involved in bad behavior.
Mohsen said that some women use these new taxis because it gives them more prestige and makes them look good. Adnan Abdullah, a taxi driver with the Raha Company, said that Raha drivers face some harassment and problems from the owners of old taxis. “They think that we took their work. It is ridiculous talking and I say to them that our livelihood is from God,” said Abdullah. There are some drivers who like to harass women but they are punished, said Abdullah. Hussam, a university student, said that the media also plays an important role in combating taxi drivers and their sexual harassment against women. “There should be an awareness campaign about it,” he said. Al-Qadasi said that the government should create awareness programs in all media to change the society’s behavior against women.
Many religious scholars believe that this phenomenon is due to the weakness of the driver’s Islamic beliefs. Mohamed Ahmed, a religious man, said that they lack the feeling of God’s scrutiny.
Samah thinks that many taxi drivers only bought a taxi to hunt women. “Most of them are rich and do not need to work in a taxi but their intentions are to chase girls in the street. This is shameful,” she said. “They have to ask themselves what if their sisters or mothers were exposed to such acts in any other taxi. What will they do?”
• Yemen fifty years of diplomacy
• Yemen faces severe food insecurity, says international report
• FEWS warns of severe food insecurity and malnutrition in Yemen
• Yemen southern activists at risk say Amnesty International
• Yemen’s General People’s Congress 30th – Overview of the Ruling Party