High Council of Fatwa issues decision on taxi drivers, women in Kurdistan Region

Council of Women Affairs criticizes ruling

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SULAIMANI — The Kurdistan Region’s High Council of Fatwa has issued several decisions that advise a number of restrictions related to women using taxis, indirectly citing an increase in sexual assault and rape of female passengers by their drivers.

The Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) High Council of Women Affairs responded on Friday, saying that the fatwa violated the dignity of both women and men.

The High Council of Fatwa, which is part of the Union of Islamic Religious Scholars in the Kurdistan Region, said in a decision dated December 4 that it had been asked advise about women taking taxis alone, as well as the money that drivers are paid.

Following a meeting on November 19, the Council decided to issue the fatwa in an attempt to protect social traditions, guide Muslims’ behavior, and to avoid “some irresponsible people” who want to exploit a legitimate job.

There has been an alarming increase in reports of taxi drivers committing sexual assault and rape against their female passengers over the past year. The government has responded by requiring all drivers to clearly display identification.

The fatwa said that women could go with legitimate persons, such as members of her family, to any place and that it is accepted. It added that there would be no illegitimate issue with two or more women taking a taxi and that is accepted.

“If the driver is a woman, women should go with her. But it is not accepted for women drivers to transport men,” the fatwa read.

“[Women taking taxis] is accepted if the women are sure about themselves and the drivers and sit in the back seat,” it said.

“When the woman or the driver or both of them are afraid of falling into a crime, sin, or an illegitimate act, for any reason, even if it is after the woman gets into the vehicle, the woman should not go with the driver and get out of the vehicle or the driver should ask her to get out. If she does not get out, the driver should get out of the vehicle immediately.”

The High Council also said women should not take taxis alone at night, unless they are certain about the driver and it is necessary for a job.

“Woman should not get in [taxis] alone with illegitimate drivers to [go] outside of cities or to deserted areas,” the fatwa continued.

“The money will be halal if the taxi owner does not fall into haram and does not use their job to perform illegitimate acts,” it added, clarifying that sexual favors could never be used in lieu of monetary payment.

In response, the KRG’s High Council of Women Affairs said that “the High Council of Fatwa has issued the fatwas without taking the role and rights of women into consideration.”

“It does not match with the principles of gender equity, which is one of the general principles of the KRG program,” it said in a statement.

“The High Council of Fatwa should deal with these social and delicate issues sensitively … and should stay away from agitating these issues.”

The KRG is currently supporting the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which runs through December 10. This year’s theme focuses on the need to end the “rape culture,” which is in part perpetuated by the tendency of societies to blame victims of rape rather than focusing on the responsibility of perpetrators.

“From the trivializing of rape, victim-blaming, the objectification of women’s bodies in movies or TV, the glamorization of violence in ads, or the constant use of misogynistic language, we are all daily witnesses to this rape culture, sometimes even silent bystanders, and have a responsibility to stop it,” UN Women said in a statement launching this year’s campaign.

(NRT Digital Media)