Can the Pink Taxi solve Egypt’s harassment problem?
The introduction of the women-only Pink Taxi is seen as a positive step toward making Egyptian women feel safer
For years, Egypt has been grappling with the growing phenomenon of sexual harassment. Rights organizations have launched a wide range of initiatives mainly aimed at encouraging women to report verbal and physical harassment. While recent jail sentences against men proven guilty of sexual harassment have been greeted with relative optimism, preventive measures on the ground remain lacking.
The introduction of the women-only Pink Taxi is, in this sense, seen as a positive step toward making Egyptian women feel safer in public. The ability of the project to tackle such a large-scale problem has, however, been questioned from the outset.
Azza Kamel, a women’s rights activist and head of the Appropriate Communication Techniques center (ACT), said the Pink Taxi “encourages segregation of the sexes, and this undermines the cause of fighting against harassment. Women have the right to feel safe while men are around. It is a society made up of men and women, and they have to coexist safely.” Kamel expressed concern that the project would promote segregation as a means of solving the problem in other fields such as education.
Intesar al-Saeid, a lawyer and director of the Cairo Center for Development and Human Rights, said the project promoted taking Egyptian women back to “the era of the harem,” and widened the class gap.
“The Pink Taxi is only for women who can afford taking taxis, and ignores other women who use public transportation,” she said, adding that all such projects are useless if the law is not strictly applied to sexual offenders, and if no effort is made to change the culture of Egyptian society.
Journalist Wael Abdel Fattah also used the word “harem” in reference to the project. “What this project does is locking women up instead of changing their surroundings,” he wrote. “The Pink Taxi only highlights the gravity of the problem but will never solve it.” Abdel Fattah compared the Pink Taxi to upscale gated communities in which people “pay millions to isolate themselves from the rest of the community,” and called both “a consumerist” way of escaping the problem.
In addition to agreeing that the project undermines calls for gender equality, sociology professor Ahmed Yehia Abdel Hamid finds the Pink Taxi less safe. “A taxi with women only is more subject to acts of aggression like harassment and kidnapping,” he said. “This will especially be the case if the taxi breaks down in a deserted area.”
Nehad Abul Qomsan, head of the Egyptian Center for Women Rights, said the project would not give women more freedom, as it claims. “Starting such a tradition will lead women to see taxis driven by men as dangerous, and there will never be enough pink taxis to accommodate women who use taxis,” she said. “The end result is that women will become more restricted and more isolated.”
Fouad al-Saeid of the National Center for Social and Criminological Research said: “In a city like Cairo, our priority should be looking for as many practical solutions as possible to the problems, and the Pink Taxi is one such solution.”
He added that separating men and women in public transportation is not new. “For years, we’ve had women-only cars in the Cairo subway and this protects them from harassment.” Saeid said the project promotes equality by allowing women to occupy jobs customarily reserved for men, such as driving taxis.
Pink Taxi driver Inas Hassan said women feel much more at ease when the driver is also female. “We talk about women issues, and if they are tired they would sleep through the trip, which is something they don’t do if the driver is a man,” she said. “Also, when they know me, they trust me with their children, also something they wouldn’t do with male drivers. I once drove a third-grade child from east of Cairo all the way to the west.”
Professor of political sociology Saeid al-Sadeq said the project was the inevitable result of the security vacuum that followed the Jan. 25 revolution, which led to an increase in sexual harassment among other crimes. “Women were not only harassed but sometimes kidnapped, and many of them were grounded because they are afraid of taking a taxi, especially that women in Egypt are not trained to defend themselves against assaults,” he said.
Sadeq added that the Pink Taxi was one of the immediate reactions that would solve the problem at the moment, until further long-term actions are taken. “While providing those solutions, we can start working on other issues like the phenomenon of moral deterioration among youths in Egyptian streets.”
Despite supporting the project as a means of giving women more freedom of movement, Mona Abdel Radi, spokesperson for the Women of Egypt Front, criticized restricting the service to relatively well-to-do women. “The project needs to be implemented on a larger scale so that, for example, women-only buses are made available,” she said.