Chechnya gets women-only taxis

By News from Elsewhere... found by BBC Monitoring

image source, Instagram
image captionMekhkari taxis will serve women only

Women in the Chechen capital Grozny will soon be able to hail taxis for their exclusive use, driven by female drivers.

A United Arab Emirates fund has put up the money for the project and published the details on its Instagram account, saying it will be "suitable for transporting women passengers in terms of religious standards and traditions" in the overwhelmingly-Muslim autonomous region of Russia's North Caucasus.

The Mekhkari (Women, in Chechen) taxi service will share 12.5m roubles (£143,000; $190,000) of funding with two other projects - a nursery school, and an auto-repair business.

The Zayed Fund for Entrepreneurship and Innovation finances small and medium-sized businesses in Chechnya, whose leader Ramzan Kadyrov has forged close ties with Arab states, and the Emirates in particular, during his 12 years in power.

image source, Grozny TV
image captionRamzan Kadyrov (second left) opened the Zayed Fund office two years ago

The Chechen leader also has a policy of putting relatives in key positions, and the Zayed Fund is no exception - its chairman is his nephew Adam Cherkhigov, according to the Russian Meduza news site.

Ramzan Kadyrov's authoritarian rule has balanced support for Russia's President Vladimir Putin with promotion of conservative Islamic practices at home, prompting complaints about civil rights violations - most recently over the persecution of the LGBT community.

Women at the wheel may not be an unusual sight in Grozny, but female taxi-drivers are rare, Govorit Moskva radio reports, adding that many Chechen women avoid travelling unaccompanied with men outside their family circle for religious reasons.

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But concerns about personal safety and being able to travel unharassed are a major consideration.

For this reason, women-only taxi services are appearing all over the world, from South Korea to Kenya, and from India to Mexico, while online comment has given the plan a broad welcome in Chechnya itself.

image source, Yelena Afonina\TASS via Getty Images
image captionGrozny has risen from the ashes of the 1990s Chechen wars

"A good idea - I hope everyone supports it. It shows concern for women passengers. But if we want to be serious about it, we mustn't forget the safety of the women drivers either," said one comment on the Zayed Fund Instagram story.

'Feminism or patriarchy?'

But the proposed service has struck a nerve with many readers elsewhere in Russia, whose fears range from the segregation of women to the intrusion of conservative Islam into public life.

"Is this feminism or patriarchy? I'm confused," tweeted one, while another worried that this was "Emiratisation - it's shameful to see this happen in Russia".

Nonetheless, some readers were willing to give the project the benefit of the doubt.

"There are times when I'd rather take a woman's taxi, for safety's sake... women shouldn't be scared off taking a cab just because of men, who are prone to violence - although we still have to find another way of fighting abuse," wrote one woman on Meduza's Twitter account.

image source, Getty Images
image captionThe idea got mixed reviews on social media

Reporting by Martin Morgan

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