Palestinian mother-of-five Nayla Abu Jubbah this week launched a small revolution by becoming the first female taxi driver in deeply conservative Gaza City.
Under the Palestinian Authority, women have the same legal right as men to drive a vehicle, but in practice, the trade of taxi driver has been exclusively male — until now.
“One day I was talking with a friend who works as a hairdresser and I said to her: ‘What would you say if we started a taxi service for women?’ She said it was a crazy idea,” the 39-year-old said.
The Israeli-blockaded territory had 50 percent unemployment even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
After drinking a steaming cup of tea in her home, the social work graduate in a headscarf puts on a mask and marches to her taxi parked outside.
After slotting her smartphone into its holder and giving a toot on the horn for show, she starts the engine and is off on the roads of Gaza City, where the Islamist Hamas movement has ruled for more than 13 years.
Abu Jubbah does not cruise the streets for fares, but takes only advance bookings.
“I leave my home and I will pick up my clients, to bring them for example from the hairdressing salon to a wedding,” she said.
She bought the vehicle with her inheritance following her father’s death.
“I said to myself one day that I needed to take advantage of the car, to put it to work,” she said. “Hence the project of a taxi service entirely for women, to put them at ease.”
Today, she is driving through the streets of Gaza City to pick up 27-year-old Aya Saleem for a shopping trip.
“We live in a conservative society,” Saleem said. “So when I saw an advertisement for a taxi company especially for women ... I felt a kind of freedom.”
She wears a long brown tunic, beige headscarf and a pale blue mask, and carries a stylish bag.
“When I’m with a woman, I feel comfortable... I feel freer and then we can talk,” she said, adding that women’s taxi services are in line with Islamic Sharia law, which Hamas promotes.
Saleem was delighted with the idea and hoped to see more female taxi drivers on Gaza’s roads.
Abu Jubbah said that she wants to expand her business.
“A woman called me recently to tell me that she wanted to work as a taxi driver by my side,” she said. “I told her that we would talk again, but I already have the feeling that the project will gain momentum.”
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