Warning: Women Can’t Drive Here

Posted: June 25, 2014

How many labels and obstacles does a woman have to fight to be able to drive a vehicle? This piece rips apart society’s double-standards.

It all began the day after my last Post-Graduation exam, when I was compelled by my brother (who is a staunch believer in women’s equality in society) to join a driving school for taking lessons.

For someone like me – who can’t ride even a bicycle – this was completely new. However, the keen interest shown by my entire family stopped me from dampening their spirits. Little did I know that I will have to overcome not only my own fears but the social prejudices, as well. Apart from my own anxieties to be annulled, there are socially rampant myths to be busted.

Though our society has come a long way from acknowledging women as passive-fecund to women as protesting-feminists, the past continues to haunt the present. To this day, driving a vehicle is considered to be a male bastion; a territory which blatantly displays the ‘no entry’” sign for the women.

Though our society has come a long way from acknowledging women as passive-fecund to women as protesting-feminists, the past continues to haunt the present.


Irrespective of their dexterity in driving, women are weighed down by the “women-can’t-drive” tag. Just as women have been denied the control over their own lives, so they have been barred from holding the reins of even a vehicle.

With the existing status quo firmly pre-determining the place of a woman at the domestic front, society has taken for granted that she can never position herself at the steering wheel. While society unabashedly makes it obvious that it is her ‘duty’ to unfailingly and unquestioningly straddle between the daughter-, wife- and mother- mode; she is all but expected to change the gears.

The fact that my mother has learnt and mastered the art of driving way back in the 9’0s continues to raise eyebrows. My first brush with the socially sanctioned biased mindset came when I sat beside my behind-the-wheel mother. Throughout our ride, I could spot prying eyes, nasty smirks, and even snide remarks.

I’m yet to notice a difference in the state of affairs. While it is mostly male drivers and pedestrians whose tongues go wagging, women are no less bemused at the sight of a she-driver. The piercing stare and the contemptible looks are enough to make one feel like a trespasser who has just gate-crashed into an outlawed region, the sole right to which belongs to patriarchy. With the male population of the society ever eager to pass a judgment, it all boils down to the fact that women can’t drive and so they mustn’t!

 While it is mostly male drivers and pedestrians whose tongues go wagging, women are no less bemused at the sight of a she-driver.

What ails our society is the tendency to clearly define and demarcate every aspect of life along gender lines. Are we as a society not yet ready to acknowledge a driver as someone who has acquired an art, notwithstanding the gender? Can we not identify a person as an individual in his/her own right? Why is it that all social institutions, norms, codes of conduct/behavioural tendencies, education, finances are largely influenced by biology and anatomy?

The need of the hour is to discard the age-old, gendered social lens which prescribes a way of life for individuals reducing them to two sets of stereotypes, each an extreme opposite of the other.

What we fail to understand is that road accidents and rash driving is not gender specific. The nagging nexus between one’s gender and driving skills are nothing more than a social construct. Apart from a handful of statistics and surveys, there is no logic behind the stereotype. If all men were drivers par excellence, and considering the fact that there are more male drivers than female ones,  wouldn’t our roads be a safe haven and a pedestrian’s paradise?

On my part, though I’m yet to ace the wheels, I’m all geared up to follow the trail of my mother, braving not only the blaring horns, but also the glaring scorns.

 Pic credit: AlanCleaver (Used under a CC license)

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  1. One of my friends from Iran (where women are not allowed to drive by law) was in awe of Indian women. She said if women in India can drive wearing sarees then Irani women can drive as well. She learnt to ride a two wheeler during her stay in India.

    • I would like to correct my comment. In Iran women are allowed to drive by law. I think the discrepancy is in riding a two wheeler. Does anyone have more information on this?

  2. I find this such a biased and misleading post. Maybe the author would care to mention her location so we can think that maybe it’s a location specific problem. Because I’ve been in quite a few cities and have seen women on the roads in both 2 & 4 wheelers, and people don’t give them much hoot.

    • Vichitra Agarwal -

      Sonali, I’d like to point out that the issue of contention here is the tendency to generalize all women as bad drivers. You must have noticed that it is the link between one’s gender and driving skills that I’m talking about. Disallowing/discouraging women from doing so stems out of this perception. There may not be a furor over a woman driving a vehicle, but people do believe that women are not good drivers and hence the condemnation. It might be a location specific menace, but it stands true nonetheless.

  3. I find this post true to Delhi, specifically NCR, which is yet to see women drivers in droves, having experienced it personally. Don’t know if it is true for other north Indian cities. But I have lived in cities in MP, Maharashtra, Karnataka and TN, and have not seen this bias anywhere else. Even in Delhi, it is a part of the overall culture, that eyes any woman not saree/salwar-clad-with-covered-faces like they have horns on their heads,

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