Meet the first-ever women train drivers on the Cairo Metro: AFP report

AFP , Sunday 21 Aug 2022

As it prepares to expand to serve a population now exceeding 20 million in Cairo and Giza governorates, the Cairo Metro has recruited Egypt's first female train drivers.

 Egyptian woman metro train driver,
Suzanne Mohamed, an Egyptian woman metro train driver, pilots a life-size train simulator at Adly Mansour station in the capital Cairo s northeastern neighbourhood of Heliopolis on May 31, 2022. AFP


Since April, commuters on the network's newest third line have seen women take the controls in the driver's cab, with reactions ranging from raised eyebrows to outright disapproval, according to the two pioneers.

Business graduate and mother of two Hind Omar said she had rushed to apply to be a train driver, eager to be a pioneer in a country where only 14.3 percent of women are in formal employment, according to 2020 figures.

The total number of employed people in Egypt reached 29.9 million in the Q2 of 2022; the number of employed males is 24.8 million, compared to 5.1 million females, according to the Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAMPAS).

"I have several thousand lives in my hands every day," the 30-year-old told AFP, proudly wearing a fluorescent jacket emblazoned with the RATP-Dev logo of the foreign operations arm of the Paris metro beneath her black and white headscarf.

Omar acknowledged that she had been lucky to have the support of her family.

"My parents found it strange at first but they ended up supporting me," she said.

"My husband was enthusiastic from the start and always encouraged me."

Hind Omar, an Egyptian woman metro train driver, pilots a life-size train simulator at Adly Mansour station in the capital Cairo's northeastern neighbourhood of Heliopolis on May 31, 2022. AFP

A key factor had been the exemption from night shifts offered to women drivers, she said.

Omar said the tests for would-be drivers had been gruelling, requiring candidates to demonstrate their "attention span" and "endurance."

She said drivers had to remain "extremely vigilant for long hours" during a six-day working week.

‘Some passengers were afraid’

Omar was one of two women accepted for the training programme run by Egypt's National Authority for Tunnels in cooperation with RATP-Dev.

The other, Suzanne Mohamed, 32, recalled the first time commuters on the platform saw her in the driver's cab.

She said she could understand "they were surprised" in a country where women have limited access to many careers.

This development comes on the heels of a landmark descision last year by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi allowing women to work in judicial positions at the State Council and in the Public Prosecution for the first time in the country’s history. Now, there are 137 female judges on the council.

"Some passengers were afraid," she told AFP. "They doubted my skills and said they did not feel safe with a woman at the controls."

Launched in 1987, the Cairo Metro is the oldest in the Arab world but it has fallen behind other Arab countries in providing employment opportunities for women.

The Cairo Metro serves three million commuters daily, according to recent remarks by Minister of Transport Kamel El-Wazir.

Moroccan Saida Abad became the first female train driver in Africa and the Arab world in 1999.

Even in Saudi Arabia, where until recently women were banned from driving cars, a first group of women is currently in training to be drivers on the railways.

With the ongoing expansion of the Cairo Metro lines as well as Egypt's first monorail system, Omar said she hoped her example would help "pave the way for other women" to become train drivers and ensure "that there is a lot of us."


* This story was edited by Ahram Online

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