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‘Just’ women drivers: or women as drivers of change?

By Jocelynne Scutt - posted Monday, 27 June 2011


Alternatively it was claimed 'women would leave to have children', even though many had worked for years collecting fares on buses and trams, with dedication through long hours, shift work, and few days off.

As for pilots, in her interview Deborah Wardley answered the question (unlawfully put to her) by pointing out that she was not about to cut her longed-for piloting career short by taking up instant childbearing – she married only during the period of her application and the case coming before the courts – and her newly-wed husband was a restaurateur who would fulfil any necessary role of child carer in the future, whilst she remained in the skies.

In any event, the evidence showed that the expense of training male commercial pilots was often lost when they took jobs elsewhere, went off on long periods of leave – whether it was trekking through the Andes, trout fishing in foreign streams, changing airlines – or suffering heart attacks or other ailments which were far more statistically likely to hit male pilots.

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The great driving question goes further than the roadways and the skies, however, extending into the field of construction and the factory. When women came to explore the paucity of women in supervisory roles in a variety of industries, the problem of the woman driver – or the woman not permitted to drive – is to the fore.

In construction work, those holding crane-driver licences, tip truck licences, front-end loader and excavation equipment licences trod an exclusive path to promotion: supervisory and foreman jobs were predicated upon holding these licences and having worked in driver-jobs, whatever the skills required for promotion. Practice kept women out of these driving jobs, so preventing them from ascending the promotions ladder. In the factory, women denied access to forklift training could not gain forklift driver licences, so were precluded from working in the highest paid factory posts, with promotional possibilities denied them.

Is this relevant to women in the West today, and the struggle by women in the Middle-East for women's rights in education, training, employment and – in Saudi Arabia – to drive cars? Undoubtedly, 'yes'. Change.org reports that the ban on Saudi women drivers 'is a huge impediment for women who are forbidden to drive to work, stores, or even a hospital', whilst 'many women cannot afford male drivers, and those who can are often harassed by them'. Laws and practices standing in the way of women becoming drivers in whatever field are founded both in psychology and pragmatism. The denial of freedom to drive or the right to hold driving licences, whatever the vehicle, privileges male independence and income-earning capacity whilst promoting dependence as 'right' for women.

Freedom – personal and economic – is at the base of women's demands, whether in the West or the East. In the West, many women say they gain a strong sense of independence when they hold their driver's licence for the first time. That sense of independence translates into practical gains, just as the holding of a crane driver's licence, or that of a forklift driver or commercial pilot, has practical consequences in terms of jobs and income. Women drivers are not constrained by the need to ask for a lift, or call for a taxi – to be dependent upon male drivers for transport and long,or even short, distance movement. Women bus-drivers, tram-drivers and pilots earn more than ever they did as conductors or flight attendants.

Bus companies say that women drivers are 'better' than men drivers, and seek exemption from equal opportunity and anti-discrimination legislation in order to advertise exclusively for women trainees. Women are reported to be 'gentler' on the buses, and rather than simply driving on when mechanical failure presents, call in the problem to the depot. This prevents the escalation of damage with consequently higher cost of repair. As for public relations, according to bus companies, women also 'relate better' to passengers.

The Saudi women's campaign to have Subaru withdraw from Saudi Arabian markets is founded upon the principle that Subaru should honour its claim as a 'progressive' brand. Perhaps women in countries where women are not denied the right to drive and where women's freedom of movement is not constrained by the denial to hold a driver's licence should begin a campaign mirroring that of our Saudi sisters. Is it time for women of the West to boycott Subaru?

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About the Author

Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt is a Barrister and Human Rights Lawyer in Mellbourne and Sydney. Her web site is here. She is also chair of Women Worldwide Advancing Freedom and Dignity.

She is also Visiting Fellow, Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Jocelynne Scutt

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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