Emerging from the shadows of a rigid Taliban rule, women who were earlier not allowed to come out of their houses without complete veil and male company are today driving cars. It is still a small phenomenon mostly confined to larger cities like Kabul and Herat, but it is a great beginning! Afghanistan was not always like this. During the Shah’s rule in the 70s and later under Soviet occupation, women actively participated in all spheres of life – from being teachers, scientists, lawyers and businesswomen; they drove their own cars too. But with Taliban rule, the status of women steeply went downhill. Even the most basic rights like education and work were taken away.
But today, in a progressive post-Taliban Afghanistan, the status of women is changing very slowly for the better. With a conservative culture, it is still not very easy for a woman to drive in Afghanistan. Men can be rude, intimidating or downright nasty, glaring and making their displeasure felt on the roads. Yet, a woman at the wheel knows no greater pleasure or freedom and takes the unpleasantness in her stride. Consider these statistics; only 180 driving permits were issued to women in the last year and a half as compared to almost 29,000 issued to men in the Kabul region. Yet, it is a jump of almost 4 times from the previous period.
The Afghan Border Police has in its midst many women officers engaged in critical roles related to conducting search raids. They are especially useful in interrogation and search of women suspects. These officers have received training in driving vehicles. The training program was conducted with the help of officers of the NATO forces and was enthusiastically attended by the women who learned driving and even got practical lessons while at it. The response was so good that more sessions are now planned. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), through its partner, Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), is also offering driving courses for women in Kabul.
Many driving schools have sprouted today in Kabul and other large cities that are seeing an increase in enrolments of women keen to learn driving.
In the video above, we see that in the relatively progressive city of Herat, there are just about 80 licensed women drivers. The Department of Transport actually has an encouraging attitude towards women drivers, as they are more cautious and cause less accidents. But the ultra-conservative culture means that women sometimes are not encouraged by men in their family to drive. The cultural change is happening at a snail’s pace. In this scenario, there is a women’s only driving school that has opened in Herat to a great response. Women feel more comfortable learning from other women, and as more and more women drivers pass out, they can be an example to other women to join their ranks. They can also step into the role of trainers. It is a large leap in women empowerment where Afghani women are not only stepping out of their houses but are being mobile and independent.
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