Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pakistan's First Female Taxi Driver

So Zahida Kazmi has been hailed. She has been driving a cab since 1992 when she was widowed at the age of 33 with six children to feed:
She took advantage of a government scheme in which anybody could buy a brand new taxi in affordable instalments. She bought herself a yellow cab and drove to Islamabad airport every morning to pick up passengers.

In a perilous and unpredictable world, Zahida at first kept a gun in the car for her own protection and she even started off by driving her passengers around wearing a burqa, a garment that covers the entire body.
Her initial fears soon dissipated.
"I realised that I would scare passengers away," she said. "So then I only wore a hijab [head covering]. Eventually I stopped covering my head because I got older and was well-established by then."
Her story is fascinating. But it is unlikely that something of this sort could happen today:
But had Zahida been starting out now, things would be quite different as she would be entering the workforce in a country torn between the forces of liberalism and Islamic radicalism.
Pakistan in 1992 was a more moderate place: it was opening up to the world; the dish antenna had been introduced; Pakistan had won the cricket world cup. Zahida says society felt fairly open to her.
But the Taliban presence in many parts of Pakistan has intensified over the years.
Zahida tells that young women don't want to follow in her footsteps, her own daughters included, and who would blame them? The consequences for them might be very different in a radicalized society than in the more open society of the early 1990s.

The article is of interest because it points out how few jobs Pakistan has for women without college education. Most women work for the family in some role or another and usually don't get paid for that work officially. This, of course, makes them more dependent on the family network for their well-being which, in turn, supports the patriarchal arrangements.