Women and the Cairo Metro

Sabah al-khair! Izzaykom il-yom? Ana zai hasan.

“Good morning! How are you all today? I am like a horse.” Arabic is a language of infinite greetings and then infinite responses to each greeting. Sometimes I feel like I’m still learning how to say hello to someone because I will suddenly be greeted in a way I’ve never heard. My favorite one so far is to say “I am like a horse” when someone asks “how are you?”

Speaking of horses, here is another video! It is about Cairo’s metro/subway system, but you can see the stable that is underneath my apartment and the sandy alley outside my front door. Easter egg: can you spot the ferris wheel?

The Cairo metro is interesting for a couple of reasons. It is one of the cheapest in the world, with a ticket costing one Egyptian pound (about 15 US cents, compared to a New York subway ticket costing $2.25). There is only one other subway on the African continent, and none other in the Middle East. But perhaps most intriguing is that every train has two cars reserved only for women. Women are free to use any car, but men are not allowed to enter these two cars. A few other countries also have women-only passenger cars.

Ladies سيدات : waiting in the women-only section below Tahrir Square.

According to the New York Times, the women-only cars were created a couple years after the subway opened in order to deal with “sexual harassment of women by men on overcrowded public transport.” Cairo has an international reputation for sexual harassment and a great deal of our student orientation talked about sexual harassment on the streets. Female students at my college are advised to never walk alone or take taxis alone, especially at night. It is definitely a big issue in Cairo and the university wants all of its students to be safe.

Since I am not a woman, I can’t pretend to really know what walking in Cairo is like for a woman. I experience different forms of ‘harassment’, such as people repeatedly stopping the taxi I am in to try and sell me a horse or camel ride, or a shop trying to sell me water for much more than the actual price. But when I do walk with girls downtown, I can see that we are looked at more, that men say things or make a hissing sound as we walk by. My female friends tell me the amount of comments and stares they receive are much less when they walk with men rather than alone or with other women.

On a not-so-crowded ride

But of course no one wants to stay home when they are in a foreign country! My female friends (both Egyptian and foreign) explore Cairo all the time and they do take taxis alone. Like most scary things you hear about a foreign country, it is good to take a step back and think about your own country. Do people steal things in the US? Get into car accidents? Is Cairo the only city with street harassment? The women-only subway cars make it a bit easier for women to get around Cairo, but the goal should always be a city which is free of sexual harassment completely, everywhere. Cairo has had women-only passenger cars for a little over 20 years, and perhaps they won’t be necessary in twenty more years.

Thanks again for reading! I hope you enjoyed the video and I look forward to your new questions.

Seth سَث

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26 thoughts on “Women and the Cairo Metro

  1. Ms Burgoine

    Hi Seth,
    Thanks for the fantastic video and post about the subway! None of us found the ferris wheel, however – can you give us a hint???
    I have a question about the greeting: What does it mean to say, “I am like a horse?” I feel strong, like I’m ready to run a race?
    Thanks!
    — Ms. Burgoine

    Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      Glad you liked the video! I don’t blame you for not finding the ferris wheel. You can see about half of it around the 29 second mark… Yeah, you’re right about what the horse phrase means.

      Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      Unless I am able to share a taxi with others, I try and take a subway just because it is so cheap and you don’t have to deal with car traffic (but you do have to deal with huge crowds sometimes).

      Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      Yes, the majority of women here are wearing a covering of some sort. There is a large variety, as you might imagine, from people who are completely covered except their eyes to people who just lightly cover their head. They range widely in color and style, some with ruffles and some with patterns. I’ve noticed that many of the younger girls (younger than high school) seem to wear white headscarves when they go to school, like a uniform.

      Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      Trash is seriously one of Cairo’s most fascinating issues and I plan on visiting an area of the city called Garbage City, which you can read about here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garbage_City

      Basically, tons of Cairo’s trash is sorted through and recycled by neighborhood inhabitants, a system referred to as an “informal sector” of the economy. This means the government doesn’t control this part of garbage pick up and there are no taxes but they also receive few services like electricity or sewage (or trash pick up). It will be interesting to find out more about this.

      Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      I have not been inside a hospital. I’ve driven by one that looks nice from the outside with hanging vines from the balconies. A friend of mine just spent a few days in the hospital after getting in a car crash, and his experience was up and down. Eventually his embassy advised him to go back to Denmark to get his broken leg double-checked and to make sure his physical therapy is correct. He said the nurses did not speak English, which was a pretty frightening experience trying to tell a nurse you are in pain but can’t really communicate.

      Reply
  2. Ms Burgoine

    Himalayas Group says: We really like the doors that you walked through at the end of your video. Are those common?

    Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      That’s one of my favorite parts about the area of Giza I live in. Most of the entrances of neighbors I’ve noticed have this sort of look to them. The doors all over Cairo area really cool, though, photos of them would make a good coffee table book.

      Reply
  3. Ms Burgoine

    Cascades Group says: We like the videos you’ve done so far, but we’d also really like a video that shows you in it and more about how you live every day – thanks!

    Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      Really glad you like the videos. I like to keep myself out of them for the most part because I don’t want them to be about ME, but you are right. The next video will include some footage of me so you can know a little more about who is writing this blog and filming. I’ll have to find someone to film me!

      Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      It’s loud, but not any louder than other subways I have been on. There is no air-conditioning on the trains but there are fans. The other day I was in a subway car without any fans and I was so sweaty it looked like I had been working out the train, but I was just sitting there.

      Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      Today the internet is basically universal, although not quite. It works in Cairo the same as in Portland, but it’s a bit cheaper and my experience so far is that most homes do not have fast internet. I have to use my university’s internet to upload the videos, for instance. Also, a lot of people buy little portable internet USB sticks that they plug into their computer instead of getting internet through something like Comcast.

      Reply
  4. Ms Burgoine

    Danube Group asks: Are there wild animals there? (Can you tell us more about the wild dogs that you mentioned a few posts ago?)

    Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      The dogs are beautiful. I have never tried to touch any of them because they tend to be quite afraid of humans and incredibly, insanely dirty. It is very, very unusual for an Egyptian to have a dog as a pet. The stables may take care of a couple dogs for whatever reason, but that would be for some tangible benefit of having dogs around. Besides the dogs all over Cairo, there are millions of cats, cockroaches, rats etc. Not too different from many large cities! The Nile river has crocodiles in it, but they have been removed from near Cairo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nile_crocodile

      Reply

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