14 February 2013

Somalia: Mogadishu Women Back in the Driver's Seat

Mogadishu — For years al-Shabaab outlawed women from driving in Mogadishu, but now, more than a year after Somali and allied forces pushed the militant group out of the capital, women are back behind the wheel.

Farhiya Gelle, 34, who recently came back to Somalia after living in England for more than 10 years, said there are many women drivers in Mogadishu now, a sign that security has improved significantly in the capital.

She, like many women who have returned from abroad as well as women who never left, is now able to go anywhere in the city with her car.

"At first I was a little afraid, but now I feel okay because people in Mogadishu are used to seeing us drive and it is a normal thing for them," Gelle told Sabahi.

Amina Hussein, an 18-year-old student at Mogadishu University, said her life has changed since she learned how to drive a year ago, as she is more independent and does not need to rely on a driver whenever she wants to go somewhere.

"Many people stare at me when I am driving my car because they are surprised that a woman is driving," she told Sabahi. "I think it is because they have not seen women drivers before. I have no problem driving, and I will keep at it, now that I have seen other women like me driving."

Men getting accustomed to seeing women drivers

Maryam Moalim Ali, a 31-year-old mother of five, said many aspects of her daily life are easier now that she has learned how to drive.

"It was a problem for me when there were a few female drivers because everyone used to stare at me in amazement and I was even forced to tint my car windows to avoid being seen," she said. "But, that is over now."

She drives her children to school and goes places by herself if she needs to. If one of her children gets sick, Ali said she no longer needs to wait for her husband to drive them to the hospital.

Now that women drivers are becoming more common in Mogadishu, some residents are beginning to notice and see it as a positive sign for Somalia.

Diyib Hashi Nur, a 37-year-old business owner in Hamar Weyne market, said the recent increase in women drivers represents progress. He said it was good for the city to have women driving their own cars.

"I am happy to see female drivers in Mogadishu and I encourage every woman who is able to drive to do so, because not every woman can have a personal driver," Nur said.

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