It is a rare sight to see a woman taxi driver on the roads of Mogadishu. And indeed 19-year-old Asha Mohamed has defied convention. An AFP story reports how the young lady drives a taxi to support her family in Somalia, considered one of the world's most conservative and dangerous countries. It further states that her career choice was driven by passion, but also necessity, after she divorced her husband, whom she married at age 16, and was left to take care of her two children and her mother. "Taxi driving in Mogadishu is not only typically reserved for men, but is also dangerous in a city where Al-Shabaab Islamists regularly set off car bombs at intersections and security checkpoints. But car-loving Mohamed, who enjoys playing racing video games on her phone, was not put off," mentions the article.
"In my childhood, it was my passion to be a driver one day, but I was not thinking that I will work as a taxi driver," she told AFP. She said she had been given the opportunity by a relatively new company called Rikaab Taxi. "The number of women working as taxi drivers was small for security reasons, but... the number of women taxi drivers is gradually growing," stated Ilham Abdullahi Ali, the female finance chief at Rikaab Taxi, to AFP.
In India too, one comes across similar stories, with women taking to the wheel for various taxi companies. One of these is Pooja Kumari, a 24-year-old driver with UberMedic—a service started by Uber service for transporting frontline healthcare workers, who are helping contain the spread of covid-19. She volunteered to ferry cancer and dialysis patients during the lockdown as well. "I joined the UberMedic service soon after the lockdown was announced. I was inspired by the many frontline workers, who were selflessly helping people during the pandemic. This was my chance to do the same," says Kumari, a Delhi resident, who lives with her sister in Jasola.
She was taken through all the guidelines and procedures required for the safety of both the passengers and the driver. Some of these included roof-to-floor plastic sheeting to act as a protective barrier, and the presence of personal protective equipment and sanitisers in the vehicle. "That was a time when everyone was sitting at home. I felt a sense of satisfaction that I was heading out for something meaningful," she adds. "Patients undergoing dialysis and chemotherapy need to visit the hospital regularly. They can't postpone their treatment. They were immensely grateful, and were full of praise that I was doing this for their health."
While growing up, Kumari had wanted to become a banking professional. However, unable to afford higher education, she decided to become a professional taxi driver. “I learned how to drive in Faridabad, along with a friend. Then I went on to work multiple jobs, including one at a Maruti factory. I decided to drive an Uber because of its flexible timings,” she says.
However, while more and more women are turning to driving commercially, the societal mindsets have still not changed. "Even now people are not used to seeing women driving professionally. I still hear comments on the road," she says. "Sometimes customers also feel surprised when I call about the ride. But I am very happy. I have learnt to be independent and self-reliant."