Reactions to the Cairo Metro decision range from raised eyebrows to outright disapproval in a country where only 14% of women have formal jobs
As it prepares to expand to serve a population now exceeding 20 million, Cairo Metro has recruited the first female train drivers from Egypt, a novelty in a country where few women have formal jobs .
Since April, commuters on the network’s new line have seen women take orders in the driver’s cab, with reactions ranging from raised eyebrows to outright disapproval, according to the two pioneers.
Egyptian women have had the right to vote and run for office since 1956, but patriarchal legislation and a male-dominated culture have severely limited personal rights.
The Cairo Metro itself offers cars reserved for women who do not wish to travel with men in an effort to protect them from sexual harassment.
A commerce graduate and mother of two, Hind Omar said she was keen to apply to become a train driver, eager to be a trailblazer in a country where only 14.3% of women are in formal employment, according to 2020 figures.
“I have several thousand lives in my hands every day,” said the 30-year-old, proudly wearing under her black and white scarf a fluorescent jacket stamped with the RATP-Dev logo of the external operations branch of the Paris metro.
Omar acknowledged that she was lucky to have the support of her family.
“My parents found it strange at first, but they ended up supporting me,” she said.
“My husband was enthusiastic from the start and always encouraged me.”
A key factor was the exemption from night shifts offered to female drivers, she said.
Omar said the tests for potential drivers had been grueling, requiring candidates to demonstrate their “attention span” and “stamina”.
She said drivers had to stay “extremely alert for long hours” during a six-day working week.
Omar was one of two women accepted for the training program organized by the Egyptian National Tunneling Authority in cooperation with RATP-Dev.
The other, Suzanne Mohamed, 32, recalled the first time commuters on the platform saw her in the driver’s cab.
She said she could understand “that they were surprised” in a country where women have limited access to many careers.
“Some passengers were scared,” she said. “They doubted my skills and said they didn’t feel safe with a woman in charge.”
Launched in 1987, the Cairo metro is the oldest in the Arab world, but it has lagged behind other Arab countries when it comes to providing jobs for women.
Moroccan Saida Abad became the first female train driver in Africa and the Arab world in 1999.
Even in Saudi Arabia, where until recently women were banned from driving cars, a first group of women are now being trained to become railway drivers.
As Cairo Metro plans to add three new lines as well as Egypt’s first monorail system, Omar said she hopes her example will help “pave the way for other women” to become car drivers. train and guarantee “that there are many of us”.
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