Afghan woman pushes for rights from behind the wheel

Tue May 15, 2012 12:09pm EDT
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By Miriam Arghandiwal

KABUL (Reuters) - The morning after the Taliban fell Shakila Naderi shed her head-to-toe burqa, sat behind the wheel of a car for the first time and asked her husband to teach her how to drive.

Now Kabul's only female driving instructor, she teaches women a rare skill that confronts harsh opposition in ultra-conservative, Muslim Afghanistan.

"It bothers men when women drive," Naderi, 45, said from behind her desk in her four-room driving school near Kabul's city centre, decorated with traffic signs and instructions in her native Dari.

"But I wasn't scared of them then and I am not scared of them now," she said, adjusting her green headscarf.

Naderi opened the school four years ago with her husband Iqbal Khan, who as a taxi driver took pity on women he saw struggling to find transportation in a country where many will not speak to men other than relatives.

Women have regained rights such as education, voting and work since the removal of the Taliban and their austere rule a decade ago, but they enjoy far less freedom than men.

Women complain of unwanted gazes and physical harassment on the cramped, crowded minibuses that are often the only method of urban public transport.

When Naderi Driving School opened, Naderi received verbal threats from the more conservative sectors of society, who decry driving as un-Islamic for women. Those have died down, she says, but male drivers often taunt her and try to chase her car off the road, sometimes causing her to swerve dangerously.   Continued...

Shakila Naderi (L), teaches a girl how to drive a car, in Kabul May 15, 2012. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail