Following what seems to be something of an international trend, the Mexican city of Puebla has offered a new service to women plagued by “leering drivers”: a fleet of taxis, driven by women and catering exclusively to women. This comes on the heels of women-only train cars in Japan and Brazil, all-female transportation in Tehran, and “ladies’ specials” in India, all designed to free women from the sexual harassment that public transportation seems inevitably to bring.
The planners of the taxi project in Puebla also tout the benefits for female drivers, saying that having women-only taxis opens up a traditionally male-dominated profession. And certainly, it’s easy to appreciate the sentiment behind the new taxi fleet – freedom from a hostile environment is always a welcome respite, as any woman who has ridden in a subway car (or walked anywhere) in New York City can tell you. If the program succeeds, the organizers say that it will be expanded to other cities in Mexico.
The problem with the Puebla taxis? They’re pink. And along with a GPS system and an alarm button, they come with a beauty kit.
“Some of the woman who have been on board tell us how male taxi drivers cross the line and try to flirt with them and make inappropriate propositions,” said taxi driver Aida Santos, who drives one of the compact, four-door taxis with a tracking device and an alarm button that notifies emergency services. “In the Pink Taxi they won’t have that feeling of insecurity, and they feel more relaxed.” So why does that feeling of relaxation have to be accompanied by a beauty kit? And do women really have to lured into this safe space with the color pink?
Women’s rights activists are understandably horrified by the taxis’ sugary exterior. Many point out that simply providing women with a way to avoid harassment does not address the root of the problem. “We are in the 21st century, and they are saying women have continued worrying about beauty and nothing more,” said Vianeth Rojas, of the Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Puebla. “They are absolutely not helping eradicate violence against women.” So basically: shouldn’t we be targeting the gropers and the harassers, not just getting women away from them? Why do women have to change their routines – and find special taxis – because these men refuse to respect them?
I have mixed feelings about the concept of all-female transportation as a whole. On the one hand, it’s great to provide women with a place where they are free from harassment and catcalling. But we have to remember that this is simply a temporary measure. Mexico City, interestingly, has one of the more progressive plans: the city began running all-female buses, but also passed a new ordinance making it easier to prosecute for public touching, and launched a public education campaign to make it clear that public touching is illegal.
The situation in Puebla is a similarly mixed bag. The opportunities for women who wouldn’t previously have been able to be taxi drivers are good, as is the concept of a harassment-free form of transportation. But let’s back it up with some concrete ways to stop harassment at its root, instead of expecting women to avoid harassment – and for goodness’ sake, we need to lose the beauty kits.
Photo courtesy of diariodelviajero.com.
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