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“It is not god, nor the parents who can protect or keep a girl safe. The safety of a girl is with her confidence”

This photoreportage is a testimony of the courage of some women in New Delhi and Jaipur (India) who despite going against all odds, chose a different road to re-craft their own destiny.

Professional driving remains a very “male space” though, and yet it is an area that badly needs the entry of women. Driving, thus offers the opportunity to provide “remunerative livelihoods with dignity to women” on one hand, while at the same time also providing “safe and alternate transport to women and families travellers”.

The multiple domestic and livelihood responsibilities an Indian woman carries make her more vulnerable to explotation at the work place. As a result, the majority of the female Indian workforce is engaged in the informal economy. They work without social protection on discriminatory wages, in gender-stereotyped professions and workspaces. Because of women’s restricted mobility, they hold jobs that do not require them to move much beyond their neighbourhoods.

‘Women on Wheels’ offers resource-poor women an alternative. Through outreach and mobilization activities in slums men and women become informed about the opportunity to become professional drivers.

Interested and curious women to become a professional driver, have to go through a rigorous selection process of interviews together with their family to check if they have the necessary attitude and documents to enroll on the programme. Fearing the potential scepticism of their community, many women do not tell their families of their decision to train as chauffeurs until well into the training, to avoid facing the sneers and looks of disbelief.

Once accepted as students they start a full time training period of six to eight months depending on their learning process. Convincing the families that the time-investment in training and registration fee are justified is a challenge for the women. They must travel far from home, leave household responsibilities and the family has to face the comments of the community about their honour leading to high drop-out rates. As the training progresses, the women gain confidence and often the once shy, dull daughter or wife becomes sparkly and confident.

Women receive specialized training in order to improve their communications skills, English and learn self-defense with the local police, women’s rights and most importantly they learn how to drive a car. This is the beginning of their transformation.

After succeeding to obtain their driving license, the women spend one year as a fulltime chauffeur with a family. This a great opportunity for them to apply their learned skills into everyday life. With one year of experience, women can apply for a commerical license, with a job position in the cab-hire service “Sakha Consulting Wings” awaiting them.

Changing mindsets is not easy, and it becomes more difficult when the change involves greater mobility, more freedom and power to the woman in the family.

The portrayed women are now empowered standing against violence of any kind to girls or women; believing in their own dignity; and pushing the boundaries to question stereotypes. But most of all they inspire others – women and men – with their confidence to obtain a better life through a job with dignity.