Shes the only female taxi driver in Afghanistan Afghan taxi driver, Sara Bahai, 40, right, waits for customers in Mazar-i Sharif city, capital of northern Balkh province, Afghanistan (AP photos)
Shes the only female taxi driver in Afghanistan
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Sara Bahai's decision to become Afghanistan's only known female taxi driver was motivated less by ideals of equality than by the need to support an extended family. That, and a love of driving that has confined her detractors to the rear-view mirror.

She still remembers her first time behind the wheel. It was shortly after the Taliban were driven from power in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

"I felt like I was in the sky, and I totally fell in love with driving," she said.

There was no turning back.

Bahai is now around 40 years old. She had already spent much of her life defying taboos in Afghanistan, where women are widely regarded as inferior to men. Females are discouraged from working outside the home.

She never married, she said. That is because she had to support her parents and siblings and feared a husband would prevent her from working. With no children of her own, she adopted two boys. Both are now in high school. When Taliban insurgents shot and killed her brother-in-law, she took in her sister and seven nieces and nephews. She now supports a dozen people.

To put food on the table, she drives around the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif in a spotlessly clean yellow and white Toyota Corolla. It has sparkly woven seat covers and a good luck talisman in the front window.

"I receive threats from unknown callers who tell me to not drive in the city because I am a woman, because it is against Islam. Some tell me that if I continue to work as a taxi driver they will kill me," she said.

"Male passengers are very jealous and often abuse me. But I don't care what they think of me. I am not afraid. I will change the country with whatever ability I have to do so," she said.

She got her driver's license in 2002 and is also a mechanic. She earned a university degree in education. Now she teaches other women to drive so they can be more independent.

Attitudes about women have been slowly changing in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. And gender equality is enshrined in the country's constitution. But local authorities have been slow to adopt change. Outside major cities, deeply conservative traditions prevail.

Women who step out of their homes unaccompanied by male relatives often face verbal and sometimes physical harassment. Domestic violence goes largely unpunished. Girls are still married off against their will, often to much older men. The females sometimes are taken as payment for debts or as swaps for property.

At the same time, millions of girls are today attending school and many graduate from university. Maternal mortality rates are falling as health services improve and it is no longer unusual for women to travel abroad alone, or even to live alone in major Afghan cities.

Afghanistan's First Lady Rula Ghani has adopted a rare public profile since her husband, President Ashraf Ghani, took office in September. She is the first wife of an Afghan leader to routinely appear in public and has campaigned for women's issues and poverty alleviation.

In a speech to mark International Women's Day, she said "women should be respected both inside and outside their homes and play an active role in society as doctors, engineers, soldiers, police officers."

Critical thinking challenge: List three ways that life is better now for women in Afghanistan.

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