Her name is Sara Bahai and she is known as the first woman taxi driver in Afghanistan.
I have always been in awe of her independent spirit and bravery. Sara started working as a teacher and became the breadwinner of her family when the Taliban killed her brother-in-law in the 1990s. With time, she has only gotten fiercer. Today, she drives a taxi, but she is also a teacher, the head of her local council, the owner of a beekeeping farm which employs 200 women , and an advocate for women facing violence in her community.
I sat down with Sara to speak about her journey when she drove a few young women from our area, including myself, to a field outside Balkh for a picnic. She watched over us as we played football and ran around freely and far from the harassment that often haunts us inside the city. Because of insecurity and harassment, it is not very common for women to go on trips without male family members, but Sara gave us courage.
“Don’t be afraid. I am here. We don’t need men for protection,” she told us.
I asked her about how she became a taxi driver.
Sara Bahai: I have been driving for eleven years, but I started my taxi business four years ago because women in my neighborhood encouraged me to. They told me that because our country is a patriarchal society some men don’t allow their wives or other female family members to get out of house and work, or ride a taxi with a man. They needed a woman taxi driver. I also needed to have a better income. My teaching job didn’t pay me enough for my family’s needs. In addition, I wanted to promote the culture of women’s driving in our area and the women told me they wanted to learn driving from me and get out of the house and work. Because of their encouragement, I started driving this taxi.
Rawina: Being a working woman is not easy in Afghanistan. Tell us about your journey and any obstacles you may have faced.
Sara Bahai: Breaking taboos is not an easy task. I have faced a lot of problems. When a woman starts working in this public way and drives, it looks terrible in the eyes of the men and the people of the district. In the minds of men, I am bad.
They worked hard to discourage me. They spread rumors and conspired against me. They even beat me. They cut my car’s tires. They scratched my car. They threatened me via Facebook and telephone. Still I fought. I tolerated the beating but didn’t give up. I faced a lot of obstacles, but eventually my fight was successful. Today I am known as the first female taxi driver in Afghanistan not just through local and national, but also international, media. I am very happy. My fight made me a winner. I know that any woman or girl who fights [for her rights], she will become victorious.
Rawina: A lot of young girls see you as a role model. What is your message to them?
Sara Bahai: I want to tell them to use every opportunity to learn. I also want them to fight and never accept defeat. Obstacles are a part of our life and our society. It’s become something of a tradition to stand in the way of women’s progress. I want the women who work outside their homes, not to abandon their work. Rather they should bring more women in because our Afghanistan needs to be rebuilt. How much longer should we tolerate living under men’s rule? There are men who are enlightened and those who aren’t. Some men let women be, others don’t. We can’t bow to those who want to stop us. If we bow down, we will never be victorious.
Before people were against my work. They called me bad names and attacked me because I drive but now they really respect me. From the authorities to local people, everyone, men and women, respects me. It is only because I didn’t give up.
Rawina: Thank you for your time and for bringing us here for this picnic.
Sara Bahai: Today, we are breaking another taboo. We came to this field to celebrate spring and spend time together, as a group of women, without any men. This is far from the city, but we were not scared. Some of the girls said, we should have a man with us, but I told that we can defend ourselves.