By Anuradha Das Mathur and Stuti Govil*
Swaminathan A Aiyar in a recent article said "Drive in India" can create more jobs than "Make in India". Of course, this raises eyebrows and even if it is more about trucks than cars, the fact remains—will women in India have a fair chance at this employment opportunity? Looks unlikely if one were to go by current trends and mindsets.
Consider this. While researching for this piece, we first turned to Google with the very obvious search term "women drivers." Here is a sampling of what showed up in the first 15 or so links to videos and articles—"epic women driving fails", "world's most stupid women drivers", "funny women drivers." Of course, this wasn't entirely surprising given that we have heard this stereotypical view of women being bad drivers countless times before. There are jokes, incessant jibes and theories about the scientific reasons why men are better drivers!
[Studies] suggest women are less rash on the road, pay more heed to traffic rules and that they are also less likely to drink and drive.
The truth is, there are studies, backed by research bodies and published in a number of verifiable sources, that suggest women are less rash on the road, pay more heed to traffic rules and that they are also less likely to drink and drive. While we make no such definitive claims, we also can't help but wonder how this detrimental stereotype gets perpetuated despite the emergence of studies to smash it.
Our worry is heightened in the context of women entering the workplace as professional drivers, more so since the space is monopolised by men. Given that it is difficult to find equality even in the absence of a targeted and specific prejudice in the workplace, what chance do women stand in fields where they have to fight before they get started? Despite an increasing awareness around diversity, and some commitment to hire women wherever possible amongst corporates, this trend is far from visible where women drivers are concerned.
Take the example of women in transport in the very cosmopolitan London. The Transport for London (TfL) website has a page solely dedicated to women in transport and mentions that the first ever woman bus driver was inducted in 1974. (As a reminder, the UK passed the bill offering women the right to vote in 1928). In 1980, TfL recruited the first woman to fly a Boeing 747. Even though it has been more than 35 years since the first step to "a more equal world," women make up only 3% of the total number of bus drivers, 2% of taxi drivers and, 6% of all train drivers, even today.
[T]here is a current shortage of 2.2 million drivers... There is an easy solution waiting to be discovered—inducting more women as drivers and making sure that the ecosystem plays ball...
Closer home, we see the first traces of encouragement for women to consider driving as a profession. Ola Cabs, one of the frontrunners in providing taxi services, has started a women-only wing called "Ola Pink Cabs" (pink!—even as they break one kind of stereotype, they unintentionally reinforce another) for the safety and security of its women customer base. Meru Cabs too has launched "Meru Eve Cabs." What is noteworthy is the primary motivation for these offerings—safety concerns of women customers following numerous instances of sexual harassment in male-driven cars. These initiatives are not about breaking the woman-driver stereotype and making sure that women have an even shot at competing for opportunities in a profession that has been conventionally man-dominated and considered "male-appropriate."
Isn't it high time we challenged the status quo? Today, India is witnessing a boom in the taxi service industry. By several estimates, with the "Uberisation" of transport, there is a current shortage of 2.2 million drivers and driving skills can provide employment to roughly 5 million more. There is an easy solution waiting to be discovered—inducting more women as drivers, making sure that the ecosystem plays ball, and in the bargain creating a more equal world. In addition to making business sense, this is the time to discard old notions and acknowledge that driving skills are truly gender-agnostic.
For those of us determined to smash stereotypes, if this isn't a problem to be solved immediately, we don't know what is.
*Anuradha Das Mathuris the Founding Dean of the Vedica Scholars Programme for Women. A Yale Greenberg World Fellow 2016, she was recognised as one of India's 100 women achievers by the President of India.