I Don’t Know How To Drive, But That Doesn’t Mean I Am Not Empowered
If you are a feminist, then why don’t you drive? Why don’t you own a scooter/car? This is something that I get asked every now and then. Yes, I don’t know to drive any vehicle, not even a bicycle. But when did that become a sureshot benchmark for empowerment? Doesn’t the idea of owning and driving your own vehicle reflect a privileged and non-inclusive definition of empowerment, that certainly excludes many women, if not all men?
Research shows that only 11 percent of drivers on the road are women. There are valid concerns about how this low percentage shows that women are still conditioned to depend on men for mobility on roads. It cannot be denied that there is a gender bias, when it comes to the perception of driving as an essential skill or a privilege. Not as many girls in our society are encouraged to take the wheels even today, as boys. Indeed, it is high time that we break the gender stereotypes around driving. “Women are bad drivers” how often have heard or said that? Clearly, the paltry 11 percent of women drivers is a result of such stigmas that kill women’s confidence, even before they can learn to drive. So in a way women who do overcome such stigmas, break norms and stereotypes, they need to be celebrated.
Certainly, holding the steering in your hand gives a sense of empowerment, but can it be an important yardstick to measure how empowered a person is?
I don’t know how to drive and it is my personal choice. Not because I was never taught. In fact, my family always encouraged me to learn to drive all types of vehicles. Neither do I have ‘owning a vehicle’ on my wish list. Even then, I consider myself a feminist and empowered woman. Because for me empowerment comes from owning my life and its decisions and feminism allows me to achieve the same.
I admire women who have aced their driving skills- climbed to the highest peaks riding Royal Enfield, travelled around the world on a bike with a baby bump and list of women who are car racers is even more inspiring. But that doesn’t mean I undermine the achievements of women who travel in public transports or ride pillion.
A study found that only nine percent women feel safe while using public transport. So, women are often advised to drive on their own to avoid harassment in trains or buses. But this is only prevention and not a cure for the problem of sexual harassment on public transport.
What if a woman cannot afford her own vehicle? How will her safety be ensured? Remember that till 2019, women made for only 23.4 percent of the nation’s workforce and earning 19 percent less than men. concerns over safety while commuting and riding home from late-night shifts is a major deterrent for women, often forcing them out of the workforce. Have we forgotten Delhi’s brutal Nirbhaya case that happened in a bus and the Disha rape and murder case from Hyderabad where the victim was riding her own scooter? Driving or not, public spaces remain unsafe for women. Nothing can guarantee you your sexual safety, not even staying indoors. So instead we need to focus on ensuring woman’s safety in roads, instead of tying her independence and safety to a scooter.
We also cannot deny that owning and riding a vehicle is a privilege that many people cannot afford in our society. Driving should be seen as a personal choice and requirement and not as a marker of gender identity or empowerment. What truly empowers a woman is her right choose, and if she chooses not to drive, then so be it.
Image Credit: iStock