“Iran: Women’s Taxi Company”
Dateline, SBS Television. 25th April 2007
Take a ride with the newly formed “Women’s Taxi Company” in Tehran. On board with a female driver and only female passengers, you’ll get a glimpse of the daily lives and challenges faced by Iranian women.
REPORTER: Bronwyn Adcock
Narges Ganeii is just 20 days into her new job – as a driver for the newly formed Women’s Taxi Company in Tehran. The only company of its kind in Iran, it only employs female drivers and only picks up female passengers. Narges is 1 of around 20 women who’ve just entered this once exclusively male domain.
NARGES GANEII, TAXIDRIVER (Translation): Some men, including the male taxi drivers, are quite happy about our entry into the industry and have accepted us as colleagues. There may be some people who are not happy about all this. They argue that men are more skilful in driving and technical matters. I disagree with that point of view.
Iran is officially an Islamic state, so separation of the sexes is the norm. On public buses, for example, men sit in the front, and women sit up the back. But taxis have always been the exception. They operate here on a group share basis, with men and women all squeezing in together. It’s the closest many women will ever physically get to a man who’s not their relative or husband, and anecdotal evidence suggests that some men just don’t behave.
NARGES GANEII, (Translation): I haven’t been harassed by a male driver myself, but as a passenger, I’ve been harassed by other passengers. A lot of men don’t behave correctly in taxis or in private vehicles acting as taxis.
Narges’s first passenger today – a doctor – agrees that men make bad travelling companions.
DR BOKHARY (Translation): They sit badly and make you squeeze into the corner because they want to make themselves comfortable.
Dr Bokhary is a regular client. She chose the service for comfort but also for safety. Iran’s traffic is notorious – an astounding 26,000 people are killed in car accidents ever year. After a shift at the public hospital, often treating road accident victims, the doctor wants a safe ride home.
DR BOKHARY (Translation): I’m always worried and stressed when I’m in a moving car. Even when cars get close to each other, I feel scared and anxious.
NARGES GARNII (Translation): I think I’ve really scared you…
DR BOKHARY (Translation): It’s because we see many car-crash victims in hospital. For this reason we have this entrenched fear of car crashes. Usually women drive more carefully than men, so I feel safer when a woman is driving.
SAMIRA RAHIMI, WOMEN’S TAXI COMPANY (Translation): Hello, madam. Is that Mrs Derafsheh? I’m calling from the ladies’ taxi service.
At the headquarters of the Women’s Taxi Company, only women can work as telephone operators.
SAMIRA RAHIMI, (Translation): Yes, my pleasure. God bless you.
Samira Rahimi has worked here for the last two months.
SAMIRA RAHIMI (Translation): Obviously, women in our society are Muslim and as such, adhere to certain religious values. The contact that may eventuate in a taxi environment is an issue for them. In terms of physical closeness, Iranian women don’t like their personal space to be violated.
While the drivers and phone staff are all women, the board and the managing director of the company are all men. Managing director Mohsen Oroji says demand is growing and he plans to expand to all of Iran, and if he can, other Gulf countries. While there’s no doubt the company is a source of empowerment for women drivers, some observers have noted that it also further entrenches the segregation of women in society. The managing director rejects this.
MOHSEN OROJI, MANAGING DIRECTOR (Translation): This is an option. People have a right to choose. The service is designed to serve those women who prefer to travel with women. There’s no obligation to use them. Anyone can use any service. There’s no restriction on those things in Iran.
For Narges – the daughter of a bus driver – this job gives her the chance to learn the more technical skills that were once closed to her.
NARGES GANEII, (Translation): Now we can become more familiar with a lot of problems hat may arise when driving a car. For example, getting a flat tyre is something that might only happen once a year when you drive your private car. Or other technical problems that arise when you drive your private car.
OK. Should I be there at 4 o’clock? Fine.
While many of Narges’s clients are regulars, she’s just received a call to go and collect a new passenger.
NARGES GANEII, (Translation): Salam Aleikonm, Hale Shoma, Hale shoma,
ZAHRA ALI AKBARY (Translation): How are you? I’m fine, thank you.
REPORTER: Oh, you speak English!
ZAHRA ALI AKBARY: Yes, very good. My name is Zahra Akbary.
To our surprise, this passenger is blind. She’s going from her job at the Education Department to her home. Zahra Ali Akbary says in this chaotic city, it’s difficult for her to take normal share taxis.
ZAHRA ALI AKBARY (Translation): Because I’m visually impaired, no services are available to me. Unfortunately, I cannot make short trips like other people. It’s not that I can’t but I have to wait half an hour at every intersection for someone to help me cross the road. And there are a lot of obstacles in my way because there are no provisions or the handicapped, especially for blind people, in Iran.
Like other women, Zahra Ali Akbary has also had problems with men in normal taxis.
ZAHRA ALI AKBARY (Translation): For example, once I wanted to pay this man. He took my hand and squeezed it. I can tell you as you’re a woman. On another occasion, I was firmly grabbed from behind. Another time they touched my chest. I’m a very sensitive person. You may find it hard to believe, I was about to explode and the only thing I could do was to go to the toilet at work the next morning and just weep. I felt I had no other refuge.
As we drive her home, Zahra tells Narges about her astounding life – as a blind woman navigating her way through working in Tehran, and living alone, away from her family.
ZAHRA ALI AKBARY (Translation): There are times when you have no other choice. It’s just forced upon you. I prefer to choose the bad if the alternative is worse. Either I accept this life or return to my town and sit at home.
By the end of this trip Narges and Zahra are making plans for a regular pick-up and drop-off. For Narges, it’s another passenger to add to her already hefty workload that sees her working six days a week, often more than 12 hours a day.
NARGES GANEII, (Translation): It’s tiring, but I think it’s a lot better than a lot of office jobs in Iran. You have your independence and no-one tells you what to do. No one’s keeping tabs on you. In addition to that, it’s an opportunity to help a fellow woman in an independent manner and prove that women can contribute alongside men to the development of the society.