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Women in Lebanon hail new, all-female taxi service

Driving a taxi in Lebanon is basically a man's job. Old men ply the streets in beat-up old Mercedes cars, the interiors smelling of old cigarettes and exhaust.

Although not common, I've heard female friends complain about male taxi drivers making unwanted advances. It seems to happen more to foreign women.

But now women in Lebanon, be they Lebanese or foreign, will have new, all-female taxi service to call on.

Called "Taxi Banet," or "Taxi for Women," the company incorporates a fleet of pink Peugeot taxis, and its all female driving team sports a pink uniform.

It's not the first time "female only" taxis have been used in the Arab world. The United Arab Emirates also employs them.

"Initially, I thought I would have a rough time finding female taxi drivers given that in Lebanon this is a man's job," Nawal Yaghi Fakhri, owner of "Taxi Banet" told Agence France-Presse. "But to my surprise I got about 40 requests."

The service is intended to cater to "wealthy female tourists from conservative Muslim countries in the Gulf region," AFP reported.

Gulf tourists flock to Lebanon's mountain villages and resorts during the summer months. It is not culturally acceptable in some countries for a woman to be in a vehicle with a man who is not her relative. In Saudi Arabia, it is prohibited by law.

In Lebanon, the new taxi service has sparked debate in some Lebanese internet chat rooms.

"This is shocking, preposterous, I can't find the words for something like that," said a chat room member named Jade. "This is pure segregation, sexism, and a way to show that women are different than men. Very, very, very, very bad step for Lebanon."

"I didn't see anything wrong with it" shot back another chatterer. "A lot of women will use their service. They will surely feel more comfortable and safe if the driver is a women."