Who is behind the wheel?

Saudi Arabia is not the only place in the world where women face discrimination where driving is concerned. The discrimination prevails practically everywhere.

By Nilofar Suhrawardy

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Published: Fri 24 Jun 2011, 10:36 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:50 AM

Notwithstanding the fact that politically women are in the lead in India, one is prompted to wonder as to how many of these politically elite ladies have given at least a little importance to including some women drivers in their staff. Hardly any. When a genuine initiative is taken in this direction, some media-hype is most probably going to be linked with it. Considering the conservative approach that prevails globally, from United States to China, several decades may pass by, before recruitment of women drivers takes a lead over male drivers, be it for the White House or similar offices elsewhere.

The ‘conservative’ discriminatory approach is also reflected in advertisements for cars. More than 90 per cent of these have males behind wheels, with fairer ones pictured as fashion-dolls seemingly impressed by the driver and, of course, the car. Now, isn’t sidelining women’s skills as a driver also discrimination? Consider these ads from another angle. The ad-designers are not to be blamed as they have no other option. Their commercial objective is to sell an image that will click with viewers and turn potential buyers into actual ones. They are more confident of the greater commercial value of men behind wheels than women.

Paradoxically, the hard fact that in most developed and developing states, women have taken actively to driving appears to have had practically negligible impact in changing conservative approach of decision-makers. They are guided by what they apparently believe in, that the society still prefers males behind wheels. This hard truth is also indicated by the dominance of males driving taxis.

Interestingly, despite the massive entry of small cars having made it easier for more women to take to driving, the change in actual life has had little impact in changing the conservative approach, preferring men at the wheels. Around two decades ago, when Indian roads were less congested and parking was easier, driving for me – in addition to being a necessity- was relaxing. But my male colleagues initially entertained a rather awkward approach towards my driving, that too a heavy car.

Discrimination against ladies behind the wheels is also probably due to male ego being hurt and also because of the annoyance generated at females entering what is supposed to be their domain. The whole world is still stuck with the notion of boys growing up with toy-guns and cars and girls with dolls. But girls have certainly grown up enough to actually start driving as it suits them. As a result, women in most parts of the world are exercising their legal right to drive.

When it comes to appointing drivers, however, only males are preferred. Yes, there prevails the unwritten tag – “Males Only” – where professional driving services are concerned. This is also true of the exciting car-races. Though the new century has been marked by women taking to driving taxis in the US, China, the UAE, India and other places, they still form less than five per cent of taxi-drivers. Gender discrimination prevails everywhere, which is partly marked by women visible behind wheels of their cars or as chauffeurs and taxi-drivers in ads — as well as in real life!

Nilofar Suhrawardy is an India-based writer

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