Why I'm Skeptical of the 'Pink Taxi'

TO GO WITH AFP STORY - A female taxi driver powers her 'Pink Taxi' --to be used exclusively by women-- in Puebla, on October
TO GO WITH AFP STORY - A female taxi driver powers her 'Pink Taxi' --to be used exclusively by women-- in Puebla, on October 6, 2009. AFP PHOTO/Jose Castanares (Photo credit should read Jose Castañares/AFP/Getty Images)

A pink taxi, came to my attention through the social media posts of some women based in Turkey I follow and respect. Their posts had an image of a pink car, with the caption: "Biz Pembe Taksi'ye binmeyecegiz, sen de insan olmayi ogreneceksin." Meaning: "We're not going to get in the Pink Cab and you'll learn how to be human."

They were responding to Pembe Taksi (Pink Taxi), that sent out its first car to roam the streets of Sivas, a large city in central Turkey. A quick search yielded news reports with pictures of a fuscia car and a woman driver standing next to it, wearing a white shirt and a dark pink tie. This was to be a taxi driven only by women and serving only women. One headline declared: "No men allowed!", another wrote: "Special Taxi for Women".

A taxi driven by a woman who's only driving around women might seem empowering from certain angles. Ladies only, no boys allowed, a woman driver, yay. But why are we getting one special car? And why is a woman taxi driver a breakthrough in a country where women have been allowed to drive, vote, work for more than half a century?

Pink Taxi's owner Gokhan Simsek, a man, said that it will give women a comfortable way to travel without fearing harassment. The taxi was modeled after the company "Pink Ladies" that has been operating in England for a few years. Similar companies also exist in two of the world's most crowded cities: Cairo and Mexico City.

Mevlut Tezel, an op-ed writer for Sabah Newspaper, wrote: "There are many countries in the world that offer transportation for women only. Why does it become a bad thing when it's in Sivas?" Which made me question if I was overreacting. Then he goes on to say: "Don't you feel a little queasy and throw side glances at the driver as you put your wife, daughter or girlfriend into a taxi?" Which made me less skeptical of my reaction and more skeptical of his view of a woman's placement in a world of men who protect and men who are out to get them.

After spending some time reading the news, the opinion pieces and social media posts my brain had an almost robotic, search engine reaction. I was presented with selections of examples from my life, things that I read recently, things that I know from being a woman who was raised in Turkey. This seemingly innocent pink taxi was bright and conjuring up knowledge that I have to interpret it.

I was visiting Mexico City last year and taking the subway somewhere. Before getting on to the train, I remember noticing the separate car at the end of the train that was for women and children only. The car looked emptier but I was accompanied by a person of the male species and so we went into one of the normal people cars. I kept thinking about whether I would have gotten on that car had I been alone. And I don't think I would have. I would have preferred to appear fearless, as if I never think of myself in the role of the prey. The women only car is telling me that I'm safe from the harassment of the other sex while I'm in there, but eventually I'll reach the station where I'm meant to get out to go on with my life and there, i'm no longer protected by the exclusion of my attackers. I know that I'll think more about being exposed and unsafe when I step out of that car.

Still, in an overcrowded city such as Mexico City, there's a bit more room to consider why it might potentially be nice to give women and children their space. Sivas is a large city in the center of Turkey. It is on the more conservative side, as most cities around central Turkey are. Sivas is large but not as crowded and commuter heavy as Istanbul. Knowing that this Pink Cab business was being used in cities like Cairo and Mexico City, I would have expected this to be practiced in Istanbul and not just between the hours of 8 am to 8 pm. That hour range gives me the overwhelming sense of a curfew for women to be on the streets. They have to go home, because even a safe pink box can't protect them during the night.

I hate getting into taxis in Istanbul. Sometimes I don't go places because I don't want to get into cabs. This happens usually when i'm feeling the least confident and comfortable and want to avoid the possibility of a confrontation with a taxi driver. And I really don't like it that my response is avoidance. My anticipation when I get into a cab in Istanbul is not that he'll hit on me or say sleazy things. Not because I don't think it's a possibility but because I personally haven't experienced that before.

My fear is based on their aggression. I've gotten yelled at and been scolded for a variety of reasons. Some of which were: why I was out by myself so late, why I was asking the driver to go to a place that was far during traffic, why I lived abroad and not in my own country near my parents. In the height of their anger (let's say I asked them to turn so I don't have to walk) they would put on a performance of yelling, muttering under their breath, honking at everything, until I scoot down on my seat and hope that he forgets about me. In some cases I would even try to console them.

A girl traveling alone is still something that I have a hard time taking lightly. I have the utmost admiration for those who do it but there is a fear instilled in me that I don't get mad at myself for listening to. The most ashamed and angry I've ever been about being a human who grew up in Turkey was when Italian artist Pippa Bacca was raped and murdered in a Turkish village. Her art piece was herself and it was heartbreakingly named "Peace Bride". She was in Turkey as part of her performance with her friend, hitchhiking from Italy to Israel in a wedding dress. Nothing happened to her anywhere else but in Turkey she was an anomaly. The murderer got a life sentence but the incident was all too telling about what it means for a woman in Turkey who was relying on the mercy of strangers to not rape and kill her as she was on her way to get somewhere.

And just last year a young university student named Ozgecan Aslan was raped and murdered in my hometown Mersin. She was the last person on a bus that travels between the cities Mersin, Tarsus and Adana. When I was at school the only frequent public transportation between the three cities were either these busses or trains, that were less frequent. My parents never wanted me to take either because they saw it as unsafe. I always thought that they were sheltering me and felt embarrassed that I didn't have the guts to defy my parents and take the bus anyway. When I read about her murder and read what the murderers said during court my blood boiled. The murderers defended themselves saying things like: "She was getting mad at us for taking the short cut, so we had to shut her up."

There are already too many things in my head telling me to fear being out of my house. I'm spending much more time than I'd like to spend looking over my shoulders to see the attackers that I'm promised are there. I don't need a Pink Taxi to remind me that I need a safe space because the norm of us being harassed and them not harassing will not change. With the line of thinking that produces the Pink Taxi, no form of safety will be sufficient. Maybe there should be separate roads for the Pink Taxi, because they might attract the attention of male drivers too much and who knows what would happen then.

I read today that a pink educational car at a driving school in Tokat apparently. The driving school is owned by a woman, Banu Ilyaz, who said: "The ladies want the pink car." In her case, I think I ought to be happy and supportive, I think. It's hard to trust pink.