Saturday, June 03, 2006

"Cool. He's a Freedom Man."

Stares, Glares for Afghan Female Drivers

KABUL, Afghanistan — Everyone she passes _ each taxi driver, every man and burqa-clad woman _ is looking at Sofia. The stares and glares are no surprise: She's female, she's driving, and she's just 14 years old.
Their numbers are few and I found this passage of the narrative quite telling.

Then there's the question of safety _ many female drivers report being harassed.

"Afghanistan is not yet at the place where we were 30 years ago. Even with lots of development we are seeing women denied an active place in society in every field," said Parwana Wafa, a 38-year-old who learned how to drive three months ago.

Wafa said she would never drive outside the capital. Even in Kabul she has to contend with men who'll drive straight at her.

"Why? They may enjoy disturbing the women. Maybe they don't like women drivers," she said in the offices of the printing company she owns.

Sofia's father says "A lot of people are against female drivers," especially in conservative regions where women are expected to stay indoors.

An incident in the western city of Herat a couple of weeks ago is a cautionary tale. Two motorcyclists who spotted a woman driver buzzed around her and cut her off, said Gulam Sarwar Haydari, deputy police chief of Herat province.

"They yelled at her, 'Why are you driving? Aren't you ashamed?'" he said.

Police jailed the two men for three hours.

"They were stupid boys," Haydari said.

Even after the Taliban fell, Herat's conservative former governor kept on enforcing the ban against female drivers for three years.

Sofia has not yet suffered any harassment. She executes a snappy U-turn at her father's command, beams and declares herself "the luckiest girl in the world" for being allowed to drive at such a young age.

She answers a question before it can be finished. "Your father is very ..."

"Cool," she says. "He's a freedom man."

You're right, Sofia. He is a cool, freedom man."