A great wave of anger swept over India since the rape and murder of a female student on a bus, who was heading home after watching an evening screening of “Life of Pi”.
Oppression against women is not unheard of in the country and although they are reported by India’s press, many go unreported. Public transportation is an area where much of that harassment occurs, making it routinely unsafe for women to travel between their destinations.
Because of the horror in recent attacks, women have been demanding safer transportation services, such as Women on Wheels.
Women on Wheels is a service run by social enterprise Sakha Consulting Wings Pvt. Ltd. and its sister organization Azad Foundation. The goal is to provide a safe cab service operated by women for women, in addition to training and employment for underprivileged women.
In a land dominated by male drivers, putting female drivers behind the wheel is as about breaking gender barriers as it is to give them an opportunity to support their families. Many of them have never sat in a car let alone drive one.
The Azad Foundation supports their training and development. Technical driving, map reading, and communication are among skills taught by the Maruti Institute of Driving and Technology Research as well as Sakha, who handpicks poor and marginalized women like Neha.
Neha lived in a children’s home in Ranchi. On an excursion to big-city Delhi, she got lost and ended up in a hostel for women. She never had much confidence, and wouldn’t dare to cross the streets on her own. It didn’t help that she didn’t know how to speak Hindi – the native language of people living in Delhi. One day, the Azad Foundation came to her hostel and she decided to join them. They taught her road signs, self-defense, and spoken English and Hindi. Now with her permanent driver’s license, she walks (and drives) with more confidence and is looking forward to pursuing her education and driving an SUV someday.
The Azad Foundation has trained over 30 women and has placed close to half of them at Sakha. The women earn around Rs. 4,500 per month. A couple have even acquired a commercial license, which takes a full year to get but allows one to drive a taxi instead of operating as a private chauffeur.
Founder of the Azad Foundation Meenu Vadera had worked on women’s issues for many years and had always believed that women drivers were needed to cater to families with women and children. The foundation started small, with only one full-time volunteer, but with seed support from Shell’s CSR program.
Because women are rarely seen driving the roads of Delhi and there is prejudice against women, critics believed that the idea wasn’t going to be successful. But the bumpy roads are proving to be smoother than expected. The women find confidence in dealing with challenges on the road and the last couple of months of violence against women have shined a new light on their mission to transport females safely to their destinations.
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