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Senegal's Taxi Sisters break new ground

Dakar's female taxi drivers shatter taboos and open up transport field for women.

Iss, 85, doesn’t fault the Taxi Sisters — “they are in the same bind as us,” he said — but the math is clear.

“This work is becoming so bad,” he sighed.

And yet the wheels roll on. However poorly the country’s cabbies may fare, the taxi sister’s struggle for their share of the yellow cars is seen by many as symbolic for a wider fight for women’s jobs and rights.

The Taxi Sister drivers are trained in driving and mechanics and they have taken self defense courses, too.

Not to mention, a few more women on the road might be a good thing to moderate Dakar’s aggressive driving culture.

“In the traffic, women don’t go for speed, they think more about safety,” said Maiga Ndeye, secretary for Femme Auto, Dakar’s women-manned car repairshop, and the only woman on-site whose hands weren’t manicured in grease splotches.

“Women are getting to be everywhere now,” she said. “We’re working as auto mechanics, as bus drivers, and now taxi drivers, too.”

She added a prophecy: “We’re on our way to dominating the transportation system.”

Ndeye may be right, or at the very least, being a woman has its advantages in this economy of un-metered taxis and haggled fares.

“We negotiate better,” bragged taxi sister Oulimata Samba, 28. Transport consultant Papis Bassene agreed:

“The taxi sisters are more charming,” he said. “Psychologically, you may think that the woman has more need of the help.”

Indeed. Shortly before Ndiane coaxes a $10 fare from a GlobalPost correspondent — five times what he would have paid a taxi brother — she made a vow.

“After five years, we’re going to buy these cars,” she said. “And then we’re going to buy some more cars, bigger cars.

“One, two, four,”— she hesitated —“then a thousand.”

Iss, the octogenarian cab driver, hopes he lives to see it.

“They work hard,” he acknowledged. “We the men have to let them earn, because we have so many women who live on the street. We need to lift them up.”