Is it just me, or are there suddenly more women drivers in Dhaka?
I have seen more women driving cars in the last few months than I have seen over the last few years.
At first, I thought it was a coincidence. Somehow, I had seen every single existing female driver in the span of few months -- or, incredulously, I hadn’t been paying enough attention before.
Yet, when I brought this observation up with friends and family, I got the same response: Yes, more women seem to be driving on the streets Dhaka.
And this isn’t just anecdotal. Based on a Dhaka Tribune article published last month, traffic police officials have noticed too.
Of course, nobody is saying that this increase is very high. Women still hold less than 1% of all driver licenses distributed by the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority. Obviously, most drivers in this country are still male.
But, since seeing all these women driving, I have been racking my brains for what may have led to this slight shift in driver demographics.
In no particular order, here are a few explanations. Of course, these mostly apply to women who already have access to a car.
Women can now drive in Saudi Arabia
Something of a miracle occurred in Saudi Arabia last year. King Salman signed a royal decree lifting the ban that had previously prevented women from driving. The law will come into full effect June 2018.
I know. Sounds far-fetched. How could the new law passed in Saudi Arabia affect the good people of Dhaka city?
By no means am I suggesting that the royal decree included a directive to Muslim-majority countries saying it was now OK for women to drive (not that it was illegal for women to drive in Bangladesh anyway).
But Saudi Arabia does exert cultural influence in Muslim-majority countries given its religious significance. Maybe the decree inspired female members of the family in Bangladesh get behind the wheel also?
The Bangladesh Post Office also recruited 19 women drivers this past year; not to mention the efforts of Brac Driving School, which has trained female drivers since 2012. These initiatives have inarguably put more women on the streets
Another potential reason is that ride-sharing apps like Uber and Pathao (and the dozen or so other ride-sharing services you probably have not have heard about) may have created a situation where drivers are more willing to pick up strangers from an app than spend their days at the bequest of a single family.
Perhaps this change in the local driver economy has encouraged more women to drive on their own instead of hiring a driver.
And let’s not forget that riding-sharing apps are now thinking of creating ride-sharing services for women only (both in terms of driver and passenger). If successful, this initiative would definitely increase the number of women on the road.
Social media fad
We all know what happens when something becomes cool on Facebook: Everybody jumps on-board. This reason came from a colleague of mine who noticed that quite a few of her female friends on Facebook were posting pictures of themselves driving for the first time.
She suggested that maybe driving is becoming trendy for the women in Dhaka who have access to a car -- #firsttimedriving.
Linked to this is a growing middle class which if not now, then soon, will have more money than it will know what to do with. Driving could become a new activity for women in this emerging class.
UN and World Bank hire female drivers
All the women I saw driving seemed to own their car (although this is pure speculation). But I read that the World Bank in Bangladesh recently changed its rules, and now intends to hire female drivers for its operations. The UN, apparently, was already doing so.
The Bangladesh Post Office also recruited 19 women drivers this past year; not to mention the efforts of Brac Driving School, which has trained female drivers since 2012. These initiatives have inarguably put more women on the streets.
Hopefully in the coming years more women will be driving cars in Dhaka. But it does beg the question: Why aren’t more women driving now?
My nanu remembers driving around in desolate Uttara back in the 1970s (before Uttara was the urban frontier it is now). This was only possible for families who could afford cars, but she remembers several of her female friends driving too.
And I suppose the reason private drivers don’t tend to be female is because rickshaw-wallahs and CNG drivers don’t tend to be female (props to Ms Mosammat Jasmine and Ms Shapna Rani for breaking these trends though). Overall, census from government officials seems to be that women drivers are generally more careful, less rash on the road. Not to play into stereotypes, but maybe that’s a solution to Dhaka’s traffic woes. More women drivers.
Meraz Mostofa writes on climate-related issues.