How digital taxi won the trust of women

Both driver and passenger feared for safety, An Nisa gave a local solution

In Summary

• An Nisa is an online taxi service that carries only women passengers and children

• It was born out of the insecurities women face when using other online taxi services

Taxi driver Alice Aburi during a trip using the An Nisa digital taxi platform in Nairobi's CBD
Taxi driver Alice Aburi during a trip using the An Nisa digital taxi platform in Nairobi's CBD

For many women, breaking into the male-dominated transport industry is a tall order.

The industry is filled with barriers that stop women from moving forward or advancing their careers.

The bias and stereotypes surrounding women further make it difficult to earn a living.

In the public transport sector, several women have tried to make their mark as matatu drivers or conductors.

Still, it has not been the easiest sector to penetrate.

With the introduction of online taxis into the Kenyan market, it seemed women would be able to break through as the opportunities become endless.

However, discrimination was still present, especially from the customers.

Mary Anne has been driving taxis for five years, and says she has to fight past the discrimination every day.

“I have had passengers say to my face that they preferred male drivers just in case anything were to happen on the road. I have to constantly reassure such passengers that I can do the job well,” she said.

Mary Anne said she wishes she had registered an ambiguous name on the platform so she wouldn’t have to face such stereotyping, but that would be dishonest.

“It is difficult, but some passengers believe in me, especially women,” she said.

She said many women trust fellow women as their taxi drivers.

Mercy Jelimo, a digital taxi operator, said sometimes she, too, prefers to only carry women passengers in her car.

She says it is just a safety precaution.

"I don't want to say that I am biased, but sometimes I will cancel rides from men because I am, after all, a woman, and who knows what could happen," she said.

Jelimo said her biggest fear is being harassed by a male passenger while she is in her car.


In 2021, there was a wave of concern from many users of digital taxis over their safety.

They claimed there was increased harassment by rogue taxi operators, calling on companies to crack the whip on them.

Some digital taxi drivers had also reported harassment from passengers, calling for a solution.

Unfortunately, this was not a new phenomenon.

Digital taxis are not regulated by the government, making it difficult to monitor their operations.

Unfortunately, the passengers end up facing the unforeseen dangers that come with using them.

Many women taxi users, especially, have to think twice before they decide to order or even board a taxi with a male driver.

"Especially at night! You have to really think about making that trip with a male driver. You always wonder whether you will be safe," Julie Mwathi says.

Julie, 27, works in hospitality, with her shift going on till late in the evening.

"Sometimes I just want to get home fast after a long day, so I opt to take a taxi. But I have heard horror stories from friends about taxi rides that did not end well, so my guard is always up," she said.

Julie said women can never be too careful about who they get into a car with.

As a result, women have been devising ways of staying safe while using online taxis, such as sharing their live locations with friends and family, just in case the driver takes them to another location.

An Nisa director Mehnaz Sarwar during an interview at their offices in Nairobi
An Nisa director Mehnaz Sarwar during an interview at their offices in Nairobi
Women feel less at risk when their driver is also a woman, and our female drivers also feel the same
Mehnaz Sarwar


Mehnaz Sarwar had been struggling with the same dilemma as Julie as a female passenger.

After seeing many other women grappling with safety, she decided to find a solution that was sustainable.

She saw this as an opportunity to solve a great societal problem, so an idea for a taxi service for women came to birth.

In 2018, Mehnaz's brainchild, An Nisa, was born. An Nisa is Arabic for 'The Women'.

“An Nisa is an online taxi service that caters to the needs of women. We carry only women passengers and children and the drivers are also female,” Mehnaz said.

She said she wanted to help women feel safe and create employment opportunities for them in the male-dominated taxi industry.

“Women feel less at risk when their driver is also a woman, and our female drivers also feel the same,” she said.

It is a concept Mehnaz believes works.

She says the idea was not meant to exclude men but to cater to the unique needs that women have and that men need to understand.

“While we cannot carry men, they can rest assured of the safety of the women and children in their lives,” she said.

She acknowledges the challenges women drivers face in the industry, and believes An Nisa can help bridge the gap and provide women with economic stability.

“We train our drivers once they sign up for An Nisa so they can respond to cases or challenges that may arise on the job, such as emergencies, difficult passengers or even harassment,” she said.

Mehnaz said An Nisa has partners, including emergency services, who promptly respond to any SOS calls.

“Our app has an SOS feature that alerts us to the driver’s location and we arrive promptly. We also teach first-aid skills to our drivers,” she said.

An Nisa charges a commission of 10 per cent to its drivers and affordable rides to passengers.

“Our competitors charge as high as 23 and 28 per cent. Our top priority is the empowerment of women drivers, and their and their passengers’ safety,” she said.

Alice Aburi, who drives for multiple digital taxi platforms, said with the current cost of living, it is difficult to make a decent living on the high commissions charged by other apps.

“I am a full-time driver and when you factor in car maintenance, insurance, and not to mention the fees we have to give out when we run into law enforcement, it is hard in the industry right now,” she said.

She said An Nisa’s commission is very fair. Other than that, they operate like any other taxi service.

A cardboard cutting of An Nisa taxi at their offices in Nairobi
A cardboard cutting of An Nisa taxi at their offices in Nairobi


The idea to have female taxi drivers is not entirely new in the industry.

Following the social media outcry by female passengers of several online taxis, including Bolt and Uber, they introduced Bolt and Uber for women.

Mehnaz said their upper hand is they have the human touch.

“Unlike our competitors, we are based here in Nairobi, so it is easier to build trust with our clients,” she said.

She said customers can always call them, walk into their offices and talk to them and their partners, including Lady Askari and emergency service Rescue Co, who are always present to help them.

“But also unlike our competitors, we cater solely to the unique needs of women passengers and drivers,” she said.

The taxi service has run into a number of challenges that forced them to slow down, from a troubled launch in 2018 to a pandemic-induced slowdown in 2020.

“When we launched in 2018, we did not expect the service to have such a high demand, and the app crashed under that weight,” she said.

Mehnaz said they had anticipated that as the customer base grew, they would grow the app with them, so the demand was overwhelming.

As they worked on the app’s stability, they continued carrying out manual trips and encouraging clients to call in and pre-book trips so they wouldn’t disappear from the industry.

They were finally ready to relaunch in October.

“We managed to partner with a company called Brmaja, a Saudi and Egypt-based company that took over the technology part of the service, and now we are back bigger and better,” she said.

An Nisa’s mobile application, she said, is available on Play Store and Appstore for Android and Apple stores respectively.

Women have been said to be their worst enemies, but with An Nisa, Mehnaz hopes they can be their biggest allies.

In the end, it is their hope that this innovation will work to the advantage of women, keeping them safe as well as financially empowering them.

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