Although driving in Cairo, surrounded by chaotic traffic and terrible drivers can be very stressful, sitting in your own car, driving yourself can definitely be the safest way of getting around. As women, we are unfortunately well aware of the sexual harassment that occurs frequently on public transport and in taxis. Consequently, many young women feel so intimidated that they avoid public transport and taxis all together. Those who do not know how to drive instead have to rely on friends and family to transport them around the city. Although depending on friends and family may be safer than the alternatives, being dependent on others to get around can be very restricting, removing any sense of independence.
This is the dilemma that Nayrouz Talaat’s new start-up, Direxiona, is aiming to solve. She found that across Cairo there are many women who, in order to gain some independence and avoid harassment, would love to be able to drive themselves. However, they are faced with the issue that the vast majority of driving instructors are men. Talaat tells us that in her research prior to launching the start-up, “within every 10 girls, 7 prefer to be taught on the hand of a female instructor”. According to her, this preference partially stems from wanting to avoid harassment and partially from generally feeling more at ease and confident learning the steps in the presence of a female instructor.
Direxiona, launched on the 26th of December, seeks to match women up with professional female driving instructors in their area in order to avoid any potential discomfort arising from having a male instructor. Whether they are beginners or more advanced, the portal aims to match women up with a female instructor who can cater to their needs. The overall aim of this start-up is therefore to empower women by helping to remove the obstacles to them being able to drive, thus giving them the independence to get to work, to meet with friends and even to travel outside of Cairo without having to rely on anyone else. As Talaat also highlights, through creating a safe and professional work environment, Direxiona “will increase the number of women who want to be instructors”, thus providing employment opportunities for Egyptian women.
Although the service has already been launched, the website won’t be up and running for another month, so it is still definitely in its early stages. The current response to the idea however, does already seems to be generally positive and Talaat claims there is a large demand for this service across the city. Currently, the company operates only within Greater Cairo and for now the focus is on building up network of clients and instructors to ensure that they can give good coverage in all areas of the city. In the long-run however, Talaat suggests there are plans to expand the platform to Alexandria.
One criticism towards the start-up has however arisen, a criticism which has previously been launched against start-ups such as Pink Taxi which were created as a response to similar social problems. Although it is important for women to feel safe when travelling and when learning how to drive, it is fair to ask whether this is the most appropriate way of dealing with the problem of harassment. Does segregating women from men allow the long-term problem of sexual harassment to continue unhindered? It seems as though the premise of this start-up is that harassment is inevitable, shifting the fight to protect women from how to end harassment to how to deal with it. More long-term solutions, such as regulation of driving instructors to ensure that male instructors don’t pose a risk to their female clients, thus making women feel more comfortable being taught by men; are a possibility. But long-term solutions take a long time to introduce. In the meantime, however much it may feel like a defeat, like an acceptance of the sexual harassment culture that we live in, maybe we need practical methods such as this platform to help us navigate reality?
Talaat ensures us, that she is “totally against gender segregation”, but that she is filling a demand for professional and safe driving instructors, citing the many female-only driving schools across Europe as successful models for her company. Furthermore, she employs many men on the Direxiona team in non-instructor roles stating, “I do believe that nothing can be done without both gender co-operation”. In an ideal world, we should be able to have any driving instructor and get in any taxi that we want regardless of gender, but unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world. Services such as Direxiona allow us to empower women by giving them independence, whilst we simultaneously fight to bring in long-term solutions to the problems that bring about the need for Direxiona in the first place.