Kashmiri Women Breaking Gender Stereotypes around Driving

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In my car, I’ll be the driver

In my car, I’m in control

Kashmiri Women Breaking Gender Stereotypes around Driving
Kashmiri Women Breaking Gender Stereotypes around Driving

Notwithstanding the huge challenges posed by patriarchy and conservatism, educated women in Kashmir are striving hard for equality and social justice. Forbidden by the patriarchy mindset and forgotten by the champions of women’s equality and empowerment, women in Kashmir are striving for greater identity and participation.

The number of women achievers in various fields is swelling. Across Kashmir, hundreds of women have earned name and fame in their respective fields nationally and internationally. These individual achievements further inspire the social collective.

What gives these women a definite sense of empowerment is driving their own vehicle. Till about five years ago, a woman driving a four-wheeler was an elitist phenomenon. But in the last few years, there has been a significant rise in the number of women who own and drive cars.

The transformation is so huge that the team of KASHMIR CENTRAL conducted a random survey on Srinagar’s Abdullah Bridge for two hours on April 27, from 4 pm to 6 pm. It was fascinating to observe that out of about 30 cars which passed over the bridge in a span of three to four minutes, about 12 to 13 cars were driven by women. In another random survey at Radio Kashmir, it was amazing to find that out of about 50 two-wheelers which would pass the crossing in a span of three to four minutes, 17 to 19 were driven by women.

Largely A Srinagar Phenomenon

The incidence of women drivers is higher in Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital, Srinagar. In the rural districts, their number is still less. Another interesting revelation of the survey was that women who migrate to Srinagar from the rural districts seem more keen to own a vehicle and drive on Srinagar roads. They are also more enthusiastic about driving on Srinagar roads.

 We are all aware of the truth – that even today, in our male-dominated society girls are generally not encouraged to take to the wheels. The society kills women’s confidence even before they can learn to drive. They also feel scared by the tendency among many men to ridicule female drivers. The women who consciously and deliberately overcome such stigmas break norms and stereotypes. They need to be celebrated.

Higher Financial Independence, Higher Number Of Women Driving Four-Wheelers

The number of women drivers in Kashmir has rapidly increased over the last few years. There has been a corresponding increase in the number of women seeking driving licenses.

At present, about 13% of the commuters driving light four-wheelers and two-wheelers in Kashmir are women. It is encouraging that the percentage of women drivers in Kashmir is rising. According to reports, the number of women taking driving licenses in Srinagar is high mainly because of the increase in the
number of working women in the capital city compared to other districts.

Another reason for higher number of women drivers in Srinagar is the higher number of financially independent women in diverse sectors here, as compared to other parts of Kashmir. When a woman gets financially independent, she procures things which secure her comfort. Buying a vehicle is one of them. Steering a wheel gives a sense of empowerment to men and women alike. More so in a patriarchal and conservative society, women gain confidence by learning to drive. Then they are not dependent upon others for their daily commute.

Fatima, a resident of Hawal who works in the government department, said that local transport is always crowded. It is not safe either, as one may be subjected to harassment. “This is why I prefer to drive my vehicle. Then I do not have to be dependent on any male member for commuting for work or for daily household needs,” she said.

It has been observed that women follow traffic rules more than men. They do not over-speed or drive rashly. As per the statistics of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, fewer women are responsible for road accidents. The majority of fatalities are caused by men. Women drive responsibly, and hence violate fewer rules while driving, says SSP Traffic Muzaffar Shah.

A Driving School Opened By A Woman

From participation in motorsport to starting their own driving schools, Kashmiri women are proving that they can do anything. Imana Aslam of Budgam started a driving school for women in 2019. Some women have aced their driving skills to the extent that they even ride the Royal Enfield. In 2018, Dr Sharmeen Mushtaq Nizami participated in a motorsport event in Kashmir. She is the only woman from Kashmir to have participated in a motorsport event and drove a Mahindra Thar.

Last year, the video of a Kashmiri bride who drove an SUV after nikaah went viral. With her grinning husband sitting beside her, the bride drove the vehicle. The charming video was watched thousands of times and was widely shared. There is something about the Mahindra Thar, perhaps. Here too, the bride drove a Mahindra Thar as her ‘doli’.

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