Iran's largest car manufacturer has announced that it will be producing a car designed specifically for women, which Portfolio describes as a "bundle of gender stereotypes on wheels." The cars will be outfitted with an automatic transmission, a navigation system, an alarm for flat tires, and a special jack that makes it easier to change a tire. The vehicles will also come with a "feminine" interior design and color options, and include an entertainment system for child passengers.Though these luxuries are common internationally, in Iran they are seen as features for women who can't handle a complex machine. And while the introduction female-specific cars only highlights the gender gap in Iran, some Iranian women are using cars to their advantage, as drivers in Iran's new women-only taxi service. Female drivers are not uncommon in Iran (unlike Saudi Arabia, where women are forbidden to drive) but there are still many restrictions on women. Iranians may not be in the company of an unrelated member of the opposite sex, a crime punishable with lashes or jail time. Public transportation is segregated, with women sitting in the rear of buses and on separate train cars, but the rules are more lax in cabs. Women commonly share taxis with male strangers in breach of Iranian law. However the male creators of the Womens' Wireless Taxi say that the service was not created to enforce religious edicts, but to provide a safe travel option for women in Tehran. The company was created in November 2006 in response to increasing instances of rape and sexual assault in Tehran. Police estimated that 30% of sexual offenses were committed by male taxi drivers and women were advised not to travel alone in cabs. "Our agency is a symbol of freedom and democracy, not of segregation," said Mohsen Oroji, Womens' Wireless Taxi's managing director in The Guardian. "We are providing a service for those women who choose us. It's not obligatory." The male directors claimed shortly after the company's creation that their goal was to be agents of female emancipation by creating jobs for women, and so far this has been the case for their employees. The company only accepts female applicants for their telephone operators and taxi drivers and currently employs 700 drivers who handle an average of 2,500 calls per day. The drivers have to turn in a share of their profits to the company, but they can set their own work schedules. Driving a cab enables Parvaneh Soltani, a 35-year-old divorced mother of two, to take home more than $12,000 a year, almost twice Iran's average annual household income. It also gives her the luxury of not needing to re-marry. Another driver, Zahra Farjami, 30, has earned more equality at home, as she makes nearly $10,000 a year, much more than her husband. "Men always think that women can't be better than them; I didn't used to think they could either," she said, "But once I got this job, I realized that women can earn more than men." While unemployment rates for Iranian women are still high, self-employment among women is on the rise, partially because women are learning how to use the gender divide to their advantage. "Women have been able to turn gender segregation on its head," says Roksana Bahramitash, author of the forthcoming book Veiled Employment. "They are entering into the labor market, they are educated and they want to have an independent lifestyle." The Islamic Republic's Women at the Wheel [Time] In Gender-Sensitive Iran, A Car Designed Specially For Women [The Guardian] Driving With The Wind In Your Headscarf [Portfolio]
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