Women in the Driving Seat: Overcoming Professional Bias

A few female entrepreneurs are trying to bring lasting change by training women drivers from disadvantaged backgrounds and putting them behind the wheel to ferry passengers across destinations

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In a country that boasts of an economic growth rate that is poised to overtake China’s by the end of 2019, and that is being hailed for its orbiter mission to Mars, gender equality continues to remain elusive for its workforce. This fact becomes even starker in the case of professions considered ‘too rough’ for women, such as driving.


Women From a Poor Proportion of Workforce

Remarkably, women are less likely to work in India than any other country in the G20 except for Saudi Arabia. Unlike the latter, there is no official ban on women drivers in India but tradition, social pressures and a perception that driving is an unsafe vocation for women exists. This acts as a major deterrent to women exercising their right to determine the course of their own lives.

Tellingly, a mere 11per cent of women in India can be found behind the driving wheel according to the Road Transport Yearbook 2014-15. That women drivers are frequently at the receiving end of derisive jokes is a demonstrably accepted fact. In 2019 they should not even be called women drivers but simply drivers. Instead, women behind the wheel much like female priests or female boxers are often treated with condescending surprise at their competence.

Do Men Have the Only Right to Drive?

Such attitudes can be traced to the family where if you have only one vehicle male members will automatically be given preference in usage. Even well-to-do households continue this practice with fathers and brothers insisting on playing chauffeur to mothers and sisters. Road rage seems to the preferred playground of the macho studs who roam the streets of metropolitan towns and cities, especially in North India. Visitors to cities such as Delhi, often complain about how aggressive drivers can be. A slight delay in starting up at a red light or a misjudged changing of the lane can result in long cold stares or knowing looks of rebuke. Some women too, seem to carry this attitude towards women taxi drivers.

Make Gender Sensitivity Part of School Curriculums Across Grades

It has been nearly six years since the brutal gang rape and murder case of the medical intern who later came to be known as Nirbhaya. Society has not been able to make its women feel safe and secure when they travel. Families are where male attitudes are bred. The fourth edition of the National Family Health Survey shows that about 27per cent of women in India has faced some form of violence – sexual or physical at home. Hence, gender sensitization needs to be made a necessary curriculum of primary education and should be continued until high school.

The proportion of women making up a country’s workforce represents how modern, economically competitive, inclusive and open its society is. Even Saudi Arabia has lifted its ban on women driving and obtaining licenses. Deep-rooted prejudices cannot merely be overcome by affirmative action and reserving jobs for women although those certainly help. India’s skewed gender ratios, literacy rates, crime-against-women rates and online prevalence of patriarchal preferences scream out for its reluctance to change.

Training Women How to Deal With Violence

Women who drive professionally need support because they are continuously vulnerable. Ideally, their car should be equipped with a GPS device to enable police and emergency services to locate her during any contingency. They should also be trained to calmly carry on a conversation without being aggressive or breaking down. There could be a system where the driver of the cab is physically separated from the passenger and the only way that screen could be breached was for the driver to open a receptacle for cab fares. Some kind of self- defence training will give female drivers confidence in handling difficult situations.

Women Breaking Stereotypes of Gender

All over the world examples abound where women have shown that given a chance they are quite capable of handling physically demanding job roles. Women are breaking stereotypes as firefighters, construction workers, policewomen, military and sports. Closer home, Mary Kom has shown her male counterparts how boxing world championships are won and retained not once but six times – an international record.

Women Can be Empowered to Make Their Own Destiny

While we may shed tears and hold candlelight marches across town to mourn our daughters lost to male violence the city continues to be rude and demeaning. A few female entrepreneurs are trying to bring lasting change by training women drivers from disadvantaged backgrounds and putting them behind the wheel to ferry passengers across destinations. Thereby, the female gender is able to earn money to support herself, her children and even her parents. She is thus empowered to make her own living and indeed, decide her own destiny.