If you’ve ever been to India, you would have at one point or another been stuck in an obscenely long traffic jam.
When it comes to road rules, India appears to be quite lax. Rickshaws, trucks and cars all battle for prime position on the road, and if that wasn’t enough, cows, bikes, dogs and often elephants walk curbside, avoiding the heavy vehicles that dominate the road. It is a very intimidating, chaotic experience.
However, while anything goes on the road, there are certain unsaid cultural rules about who is allowed behind the wheel.
Traditional gender roles in India have often meant women have fewer opportunities in the workforce than men, kept from education and employment to help in the home and raise a family. This has been the case for hundreds and hundreds of years, but now thanks to Planterra: a not for profit organisation dedicated to supporting communities touched by tourism, in partnership with G adventures: a small-group adventure tour operator and the Azad Foundation, women are being provided with more opportunity through a collaborative program known as Women on Wheels.
The program empowers disadvantaged and abused women from resource-poor urban areas across India, encouraging them to become professional commercial drivers. Women on Wheels provides special training that caters to both the technical side of chauffeuring and the self-empowerment and self-development side.
Image: Women on Wheels, Initiative in New Delhi
Empowering women to take a job in a very male-dominated field in India is a difficult task. For many women, dependency and abuse have left them in a life of hardship and poverty. Undoing emotional damage and cultural values is a tall ask. For many women, the Azad Foundation has given them opportunity and security, by providing a stable job with good compensation and decent hours. One such woman, Shanti, Women on Wheels helped her escape an abusive household. Shanti found the program at a very hard time of her life. With three daughters and an abusive husband, Shanti was desperate to gain independence. The Azad Foundation was her refuge. Through the foundation, she attended women’s rights programs that empowered and helped her understand that her choices were no longer limited. It also gave her the confidence to report her abusive husband to the police, after which, she started training to be a commercial chauffeur. She has now been employed, for over a year.
Women on Wheels not only helps women in India but female solo travellers, as it is a safe transportation option around India.
The program, which began in 2008, initially had trouble finding interest but has since gained traction with local and international companies all vying to employ women drivers. The Azad Foundation and the Women on Wheels program continue to challenge traditional gender roles in India in both the workplace and in the home.
Thanks to G- Adventures, Planterra and The Azad Foundation; it is now time for Indian women to take the wheel.
You can experience an included arrival transfer through Women on Wheels on these National Geographic Journeys tours: