Women have been driving in the subcontinent since before partition. Even before, during the British Raj, our women drove cars in sarees and other traditional dresses. They were always at the top of their game. Noble women knew just how to pave the way for themselves. Women’s opportunity to drive has always been controlled either in conservative families, or was not feasible in economically-challenged families, but it was never attributed to them being good or bad drivers. On a broad spectrum, there weren’t many cars on the road.
If a woman knows her way around a car, men are impressed; “Oh, a lady car buff! Must be quite a catch!” Well, maybe some of us watched Top Gear because our fathers or brothers controlled the remote (seriously, they need to learn to watch TV with the women in the household). Or, in my case, it can out of interest. Nonetheless, women have been driving cars for a long time, and have always known their way with the steering wheel.
How many of you have demonized women driving on the road? Someone zigzags through the road, and of course, it must be a woman driving! Woh bhee dupattay wali aunty hee ho gee jis ne mujhe peechay cut mara tha! We say it with such certainty. It is only when you go near just to take a closer look, hoping (in your heart) that it is either the aunty so you can shoot her a look of disapproval, or possibly a twenty-two year old girl behind the wheel so you can follow her to her college, that you find out, it was man on a phone, possibly telling someone how much he likes to go to work because he gets the best internet connection to watch YouTube videos. Maybe, you should be guilty of that too. I know I am.
When we make remarks on women driving, we miss out a huge element in the equation. Who taught them how to drive? Was it their father, mother, a driving teacher, an older sibling, husband or some uncle? Of course, if it is a man, it has to be a mehram. But that mehram is not lashed at for not doing a good job driving, if that indeed is the case. No, it is entirely the woman’s fault.
When men say women never give them space in traffic, I wonder if they give the women in their lives space. If a woman cuts them in traffic, it must really be because you check your sister’s phone every now and then and keep tabs on how many male friends she has. If you have any inkling that she has a boyfriend, he gets a threatening phone call from you. Listen, its karma. You give others space, and the road shall be free for you.
Of course, we have never really made any changes to our mindset regarding women and driving. We like women’s rights from afar, but when it comes to taking it, or giving it, there is little that we do. It is not uncommon from me to see men chasing after girls driving, or men looking at girls on the sidewalk, or waiting at the bus stop when they should be concentrating on the road. That is the height of irresponsible driving.
Many families do not like to teach their daughters how to drive, simply because it gives them more mobility to go where they want to. It is one of the best controlling mechanisms, except that Uber and Careem have sort of paved the way for everyone to be more mobile. Although, everyone uses these apps as per convenience, more women use it. They don’t really need to learn how to drive just to get around cities. To cater to women, Careem made considerable changes to their policies to make their services safe for women. This included a higher induction of women drivers, and educating their male drivers about sexual harassment. These trainings, I presume, cannot be taught across to all registered users, and only the first few entrants received formal trainings. By and large, it is still considered dangerous, and girls take extra precautions to keep themselves safe like calling a friend, or switching on their live location on WhatsApp for their loved ones.
Women’s mobility is seen as a threat to the status quo because it is deemed to endanger men’s roles. Driving is seen as a masculine act, and it is thought that women who drive are rebels. It very well may be the case. However, women drivers do not threaten the status quo at all, and if anything it enriches life for families. My colleague learnt to drive quite late, but when she did, she was able to drive to pick up her children on time, rather than them having to wait forty-five minutes on a school bus to get home exhausted, and was able to pay the bills without her husband having to do an extra chore, and could come to work on time rather than having to come and pay someone to do it for her every single day. She was also able to take part in more outdoor activities with her children. Her husband is a surgeon, and had to perform for eight to twelve hours, (in complicated cases, surgeons are awake for twenty-four to thirty-six hours) on a surgical table, and that itself is hard enough.
Driving women is not an anomaly in Pakistan, and has persisted ever since its creation. It may be considered “wrong” in some areas of Pakistan, but certainly not in the metropolitan areas. It is neither taboo, nor an uncultured act. Why, then, are we so quick to point out women drivers for changing lanes when men drivers do it more so? Our sensibilities do not recognize women as active members of society. They do majority of the behind the scenes work, and we let it remain that way. No one really wants to talk about women taking charge of their lives, or the lives of others. Men have to bear the brunt just as much when they are responsible for driving their sisters or wives to work, or the bank to pay bills or to go to a hospital. Maybe we’d be a little better off if we made our roads, and thoughts, safer for the women around us.