Say you are a woman, it is 11pm and you need a taxi ride urgently. You may have heard horrendous stories of female passengers in a male driven taxi that makes you recoil and opt to cancel the ride, but you need it, and you are alone.
Getting in the taxi, worry knocks and you start having wild ideas of your escape plan, just in case. You check the child lock and confirm that your phone is charged, before sending a screenshot of your taxi details to a friend – if anything happens, they will have a clue of where to start.
Will it be comforting to say that you are not alone?
This comfort factor for women is in a female chauffeured taxi called An Nisa, a taxi company whose vehicles only carry women and children, limited to pre-teen male.
“I wanted a taxi service that would make women feel comfortable throughout their journey. Women are more maternal and women feel more comfortable being driven by fellow women,” says Khawlah Habib, founder of An Nisa.
An Nisa, which means women in the Arabic language, is a solution to women and mothers who may have had insecurities when they use other taxi services.
Whilst the analogy of prevention being better than cure is mostly used in medicine, Ms Habib says it perfectly fits her idea of having a female passenger being driven by a woman.
“I did a lot of research and talked to a number of women who narrated their unpleasant experiences, which made me see the need of coming up with a female-only taxi,” says Ms Habib.
When it was launched in 2018, there were more than 1,000 downloads and requests to use their service within a week. Unfortunately, at the time this article was written, the app was under maintenance so all bookings are still made on call.
“Men also call me to let me know that the ladies in their lives, or children, would wish to use An Nisa as a mode of transport, and that tells you that the worry is felt by both genders,” says Ms Habib.
An Nisa today, has more than 50 female drivers that work mainly in Nairobi and Mombasa.
It is even a feel-good option for female taxi drivers. Beatrice Wambui, a 30-year-old, who has been a taxi driver for ten years now, has an affirmative nod for the An Nisa experience.
Ms Wambui juggles between all the online taxi service providers available in Nairobi. But says: “Having an An Nisa client feels safe, because I already know it is a fellow woman coming on board.”
Although she may not be affected much when she uses the other online taxi services, the discrimination starts from the passenger.
“One time I got a client request for my ride, when I accepted the request and they found out that it was a woman behind the wheel, they cancelled, and I felt so bad,” Ms Wambui says.
Late night ride
With An Nisa, she says, the expectation and reality are usually in synchrony. So, once a client calls in, they know that it is a woman who will drive them, so they do not have any reservations because that is what they sign up for.
Ms Habib does not just employ any woman to be her driver.
“I prefer drivers who have driven for a while, say 10 years or more, not less and should comply with all NTSA (National Transport and Safety Authority) requirements.”
And for clients who may want a late night ride, or a very early ride; say to the airport, they make advanced booking so that safety precautions including the driver’s, are considered.
“I had to apply for a curfew pass that allows me to pick and drop off clients who travel in the wee hours of the night. With the pandemic, I insist that the client wears a face mask and sits on the back seat,” adds Ms Wambui.
For safety, An Nisa has partnered with Lady Askari, a company that offers protection services to women. The services, just like An Nisa, are provided by female trained security guards.