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    Cairo Launches Female-Only Bus Service in Response to Rampant Sexual Harassment

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    The English Mass Transit Company - contracted by Cairo’s Transport Authority (CTA) - recently launched a female-only bus service in Cairo to protect women from sexual harassment, a widespread issue in Egypt’s sprawling capital.

    Umm Abdalla, a 42-year-old widow and mother of five, is Egypt's first female bus driver. 

    "It happened because I was desperate for a job and they [the English Mass Transit Company] were recruiting," Umm Abdalla, one of the service's new bus drivers, said to Shahira Amin's Al-Monitor.

    "With no education or skills, my chances of finding a decent job were slim. A neighbor told me about the job ad for bus drivers. The ad stated that the company would train potential candidates before hiring them and that prior bus driving experience was not required," she said.

    A niqab-wearing woman driving a full-size bus in the busy streets of Cairo has locals shocked, but Umm Abdalla says she is unruffled by the stares.

    "People stare anyway, no matter what you are wearing or what you do. Some are nosy by nature, others are simply curious. I just take it in stride," Umm Abdalla told Al-Monitor.

    With no driving experience at all, it took Umm Abdalla a little over a month to feel comfortable driving the large vehicle on Cairo's roads. 

    "The commercial license gave me a new lease on life, as it meant that I could finally earn a livelihood and keep my children in school," she said, excited about having passed the driving test.

    Even though Cairo's first female bus driver was nervous about her new job, she was "encouraged, however, by the praise lavished" on her.

    "Several told me on my first day that they'd enjoyed the ride and that I'm a role model for other women," she said.

    A 2013 UN report revealed that 99.3 percent of women in Cairo have experienced sexual harassment in public, and 81 percent of all harassment cases occurred when women were using public transportation. Although Egypt enacted an anti-sexual harassment law in 2014, it has not decreased the number of harassment cases, although it has prompted more women to report sexual harassment to the police, local Egyptian media reported.

    "Women feel unsafe on buses, especially during rush hour. That is why we hired Umm Abdalla for our new women-only bus service on the busy Giza Square-Pyramids Plateau route during peak hours," Oman Sayed, deputy director of the English Mass Transit Company, said.

    "We've also hired a female conductor so that the service would have an all-female staff," he added.

    Cairo's new bus service has created controversy, especially on mainstream media and social media networks.

    "It's a recipe for disaster," Facebook user Wahid Sharaf wrote, expressing his opinion that a niqab-wearing women with minimal driving experience is a safety hazard.

    "While a college education may not be required for this profession, bus drivers ought to at least be able to read and write to understand the road signs. They need to undergo sufficient training on safety regulations, vehicle inspection and first aid. Having good communication skills is an added advantage," Wael Abdel Meguid, the general manager of Egypt's Automobile and Touring Club, said. 

    Others have expressed that a covered woman driving a bus is dangerous in midst of a war against Daesh.

    "Passengers have the right to know who is driving them," Nadia Lamloum, executive director of the British-Egyptian Businessmen's Association, wrote in a Facebook comment.

    Others have taken on social media to commend Umm Abdalla for her bravery.

    "A female driver is as good as any male driver. I feel safer and more comfortable on the women's bus as I no longer have to worry about harassers groping me and pretending they had touched me by accident," Karima Mohamed, who has been using the service daily since its launch, said.

    Hoda Abdel Monem, another woman who uses the bus to take her daughters to school, said, "We can talk freely and discuss women's issues without having to worry about a male driver overhearing our conversations. I can trust Umm Abdalla with the safety of my children."

    Even though the female-only bus is a new service, Cairo introduced women-only subway cars in 2007 so that female commuters could using the metro without fear of sexual assault, either.

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