Why Gaza should have more female taxi drivers

A Palestinian mother of five has broken all norms and traditions in the Gaza Strip by becoming the first female taxi driver in the besieged enclave.

al-monitor The first female Palestinian taxi driver in the Gaza Strip, Naela Abu Jubba, drives a client in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Nov. 17, 2020. Photo by Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images.

Dec 8, 2020

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Naela Abu Jubba, 39, has decided to take a profession that has long been restricted to men in the Gaza Strip. She has become the first female taxi driver in Gaza.

Jubba aspires to open her own private taxi services office for female customers only. In a male-dominated society that rarely accepts women in many professions, she gets her share of criticism.

Al-Monitor spoke to Jubba, who holds a bachelor’s degree in social services and until recently worked as a human development trainer. “I first thought about becoming a taxi driver because of the suffering women face when using taxi services with male drivers, especially when they leave hairdressing and makeup salons. Most of the women here wear the veil and do not go out wearing makeup, so they are forced to wear an abaya or niqab to cover their faces returning home.”

She added, “This does not end here, as some women are not allowed to even speak in the taxi driven by a man, nor do they feel comfortable and safe.”

Jubba, who is the sole breadwinner for her five children, explained that she first started working as a taxi driver a month and a half ago. In light of the outbreak of the coronavirus and the ensuing closure of the Gaza Strip, she was unable to keep her job as a human development trainer. This forced her to find a new source of income. After the death of her father, she bought her own car with the inheritance money he had left her. “I decided to work as a taxi driver for women only. I do not offer my services to a woman accompanied by a man.”

When she discussed the idea with her friends, they warned her that Gazan society would not be tolerant. Yet Jubba was convinced this job does not break ethics or public morals and was sure she could make it. “The patriarchal society fears the success of any woman,” she said. “I was surprised by the negative views of society and the harsh criticism by some fellow male taxi drivers. After I was featured on local media, I was attacked on social media and harassed on the street.”

She added, “My family now wants me to stay at home and quit my job. They can no longer stand the gossip of our neighbors, who keep urging them to secure my financial and living needs so that I can stop working. As if women in this society work only to make money. They do not understand that a job comes with social status and confers autonomy and independence.”

Jubba stressed that she is not a threat to male taxi drivers who cruise the streets to pick up passengers, since she only accepts online requests through her phone. “I wonder why they attack me. I expected criticism, but not in this disgraceful way. This criticism is one of my biggest challenges,” she said, calling on Gazans who do not support her to at least stop insulting her.

Women in Gaza are not allowed to work as taxi drivers and drive public transportation vehicles. But since Jubba takes service requests online and is not working through a private taxi office, she is able to drive around using the license of her private car.

Jubba seeks to open her own taxi service office for women only, with an all-female team of drivers. She hopes to obtain an exemption from government agencies allowing her to do so.

“My service is highly popular among women. I am sure I will be able to expand [my work]. On average, I get 20 to 30 requests [a week],” Jubba said. “For the time being, I only work in Gaza City as I have not received any requests from southern and northern governorates.”

Jubba encourages other women who are able to drive and have their own cars to follow suit, stressing that she will continue working despite all negative criticism.

Alaa Salama has welcomed the idea of female taxi drivers, saying it was a much-needed and long overdue service.

She told Al-Monitor, “To this day our society rejects the idea of ​​a woman working as a [taxi] driver, but in the future when it becomes widespread the situation will definitely change. It is only natural for a new idea to stir controversy, and it takes time for society to accept it — especially in a conservative society like Gaza where most things are forbidden for women.”

Salama has yet to use Jubba’s services because she lives far from the area where Jubba operates. She encourages her to go ahead with her project and open branches throughout the Gaza Strip.

Kholoud Samir believes Jubba’s services are appropriate for Gaza’s conservative society and a safe way for women to move around. “I hope this kind of service expands in the near future,” she told Al-Monitor

Samir argued that some oppose the idea of a female taxi driver because they are against women working in general. “These people believe a woman’s role is confined to some traditional professions such as teaching and nursing. I am surprised by the attacks on Jubba, as there is nothing that should keep a woman from using her own car to work as a [taxi] driver. Jubba is serving her community and securing her own income. A woman can work as a taxi driver if she knows her way around the city and can handle road incidents.”

She said that she supports Jubba and that she is planning to use her services in the future. “Some women are verbally harassed by male taxi drivers. This is not to mention the drivers’ reckless driving in some cases,” Samir added. “[Gaza] is in need of female taxi drivers, as some women may feel embarrassed to ask male taxi drivers to drive them to specific places, such as hairdressers and beauty salons and in some cases of emergency and childbirth.”

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