Becoming a professional driver brings independence and an income for a growing number of women, despite traditional attitudes and resistance from fundamentalists.
By Shahriar Sharif
(Khabar South Asia in Dhaka)
With the help of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) and a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), Bangladeshi women are finding new opportunities to earn a steady income as professional drivers. Seema Dibra, 19, got her driver’s licence after lessons at the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) training centre in Dhaka’s Uttara suburb. Together with the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), BRAC is planning to train 600 women drivers, providing them new livelihood opportunities. Seema Dibra, 19, got her driver’s licence after lessons at the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) training centre in Dhaka’s Uttara suburb. Together with the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), BRAC is planning to train 600 women drivers, providing them new livelihood opportunities. “After completing the training from BRAC driving school, I attended the examination of BRTA and got the driving licence within two months,” driver Seema Dibra, 19, told Khabar South Asia. ”It is easy to get a government, non-government or private job for a women driver,” she said. “I already got two non-government jobs within one year.” “When I started my journey as a driver, some people teased me,” Dibra added. “Our society is male-dominated and the religious fundamentalists don’t like the freedom of women. But I don’t bother them.”
Bangladesh is a moderate Muslim nation where women work alongside men in many offices and factories, but driving is still a preserve for men. Increasingly, however, women are showing interest in driving as a profession. Laizu Akhter is something of a pioneer. In 2005, she moved to Dhaka from her native village in southern Gournadi sub district with hopes of increasing her family’s meagre income. Despite resistance from her husband and in-laws, Akhter enrolled in a driving school. “Now my husband and my family take pride in my job. I am not only bringing an income to my family, but some women of my locality are also being inspired to take up driving as a profession,” Akhter told Khabar. She works as a driver for a foreign-based non-government organization (NGO) in Dhaka.
Now, BRTA has teamed up with the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), the largest NGO in the world, to train 600 women drivers, in part to fill a 15% quota of jobs reserved for women in the government transport pool.
“We don’t have any separate project to train women and that’s why we have teamed up with BRAC to launch the programme,” BRTA chairman Nazrul Islam told Khabar.
According to BRAC, its training centre has been in operation since May 2012, and has trained 75 women thus far. Of these, 18 already have full-time employment. “It costs us nearly Tk 80,000 ($1,000) to train a woman driver,” S.N. Koiri, chief financial officer of BRAC, told Khabar. “We’ll take our next course of action after completion of the training of 600 women with BRTA.”
“It’s truly heart-lifting to see that despite threats from religious extremists and bigots, more and more women are coming forward to take up driving as a profession,” said attendee Rokeya Afzal Rahman, who was women affairs adviser to the caretaker government in 2007-2009.