After more than a decade of bloodied war, Afghanistan just might we witnessing winds of social change. The country has been so torn by war that it might have moved backwards in time. The social order in Afghanistan is now as male centric, male dominated, and patriarchal as it ever was. However change in social order is a slow, steady, but a relentless process.
A news story symbolizing a minor, but important change in the Afghan society was reported. Her passion for being behind the steering wheel of a car and the necessity of feeding and providing for her family made Sara Bahai consider being a cab driver. Today, she is proud of being the first and only female cab driver in Afghanistan. Bahai had to confront the cynical and regressive mindset of her disparagers within her own family and neighborhood. Though they say, necessity is the mother of invention, Bahai’s necessity caused her to take a stand and continue her profession as cab driver. The idea of equality and gender neutrality was not even a remote factor in her decision.
Bahai remembers the first time she drove a car. It was a few weeks after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. She was on cloud nine when she drove a car for the first time and it became her passion. After that, there was no looking back. Bahai, 40, has been challenging the customs of Afghan society for the most part of her life.
In the Afghan society, women rarely work outside their homes. They are not given a status equal to men. Vices like young girls being traded instead of monetary payments and domestic violence are common in the ultra conservative society. However, the winds of change are flowing slowly in the Afghan society.
Bahai remained unmarried in a country where marrying girls off at the age of 15 is considered common. She says that she took this decision as she was scared that her husband would not let her work and therefore, not let her support her family. Bahai takes care of her parents and her siblings. She has adopted two boys who are now in high school. Bahai also shared her family’s tragic experience when her brother-in-law was killed by Taliban terrorists. She then had to take in her widowed sister and her seven nephews and nieces. Bahai supports a total of twelve people now.
Bahai’s cab is a squeaky clean Toyota Corolla in white and yellow. She drives in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. She continues to get random threats over the phone of dire consequences. The callers tell her to stop driving as she is a woman and they claim that it is against Islam. Bahai often faces hostility from her male passengers. However, she brushes that aside and says that she is not scared. She is adamant that she will change the Afghan society in whichever small way she can. Bahai obtained her driver’s license in 2002 and is also a skilled mechanic. She holds a degree in education and works as a driving instructor for women in Afghanistan.
Bahai says that she is happy to witness the increasing number of young girls being educated in schools and colleges across Afghanistan. This according to her is essential for women to become confident in life and be independent. Sara Bahai is hopeful that the winds of social change in Afghanistan would make everything alright in the country trying to rebuild itself from the ruins of war.
By Ankur Sinha