Zahida Kazmi has been hailed as Pakistan's first female taxi driver. She has driven from the crowded markets of Islamabad to the remote tribal country in the north. In 1992 at the age of 33, newly widowed Zahida Kazmi decided to take her fate in her own hands and became a taxi driver.
Her first fight was to convince her family then she had to confront colleagues, who are also competitors. The first time she went to look for clients at the airport, other drivers tried to make her go, but she said no I am a woman and women are strong and determined. For a while they tried to discourage her, but she persevered.
She has been making a living as a taxi driver for the past two decades and single-handedly brought up her children after her first and second husbands died.
She took advantage of a government scheme in which anybody could buy a brand new taxi in affordable instalments. She bought herself a yellow cab and drove to Islamabad airport every morning to pick up passengers.
Zahida has had to drive long distances on treacherous routes to northern areas such as Balakot, Chitral, Dir and even the Swat valley. In a perilous and unpredictable world, Zahida at first kept a gun in the car for her own protection. She even started off by driving her passengers around wearing a burqa, a garment that covers the entire body. Her initial fears soon dissipated. Also, she realised that she would scare the passengers away and only wore a hijab [head covering]. Eventually she stopped covering her head because she got older and was well-established.
Exposing herself to the hot, bustling city streets of Islamabad and by driving to the rocky and remote districts adjoining Pakistan's tribal areas, Zahida learned a lot about the country she lived in and its people. The Pathans of the tribal north-west, despite a reputation for fierce male pride and inflexibility, treated her with immense courtesy on her journeys.
Eventually she became the chairperson of Pakistan's yellow cab association. Once she was established, she offered to teach young women how to drive taxis, but there was little interest. Even her daughters didn't express enthusiasm.
Women have progressed in Pakistan in recent years. Girls are working in offices, shops and hotels. At least they leave home. Yet, Pakistan has an exceptionally low number of women in work, most women who work come under the category of unpaid family workers. Zahida is not one of Pakistan's metropolitan liberal middle class. There are plenty of educational and career opportunities for privileged women in Pakistan but not for women from Zahida's background.
If Zahida had a chance she would have become a doctor.