Women at the wheel, almost

Words by Jane Natasha Rusli 
Art by Laura Aitken 

Whether you own a vagina or not; if you identify yourself with some concoction of the XY chromosomal marriage; give yourself a little pat on the back.

It’s an exciting time to be female. Gender equality is no foreign concept in this era of female empowerment and individuality. Of course, equality in opportunity and pay is still being fought for by the likes of feminist political movements such as “The Women’s Movement”. Empirically nothing is yet 50/50, but we have it much better than our parents back in the ‘80s. The gendered gap in pay and opportunity is more concentrated, and women have the right to vote (or if you’re living in Straya; required). Long gone are the days women need to hide to complain about inequality. Women have a voice, and if you are a consumer of some sort of social media; you’ve probably noticed that they aren’t afraid to express it.

Driving is a symbol of this independence. When there’s a wheel there’s a way. We can drive whenever, wherever, and no one would really know. Yay for freedom.

Many developing countries use the notion of driving as a method of control. Patriarchal in nature, Pakistani women’s everyday movements are dictated by fathers, brothers, and husbands who strongly oppose female family members to drive, constraining women into their neighbourhoods.

Aishah (22) must travel with a driver wherever she goes; “Although my father insists this rule is due to my protection, I’m sure it is his way of controlling and monitoring me.”

Although driving has always been legal, Pakistani women are often mocked and ridiculed by their male friends and elders, “Apparently we are dumb, we have no skill in male related activities,” said Sara (23). The expectation of a Pakistani female is to serve their household, cook, mother their children and support their husbands. The act of driving is often perceived as a platform for rebellion as it enables women to go and do as they please. Hence, their ability to drive is influenced by a male guardian, “Giving the permission for women to drive is something that should not have been a debate in the first place. It doesn’t make sense that women require permission to drive although it is legal,” said Sara.

It’s a bit of an ironic twist to the symbolic representation of independence that driving holds. With only the freedom to decide unimportant details like buying new clothes, and hanging out with friends, women’s ability to make life choices such as when and to whom they marry, studying a higher degree, and working must be made through consent.

Despite improvements in attempting to initiate more freedom for their women, domestic abuse, child and forced marriages remain. Although the government is trying to facilitate more freedom for its women, it is difficult to change the ways of a society; especially a society indebted in patriarchal roots.  “As long as we consent to our families, we are cared for, and are treated with a lot of respect,” said Abeera (24). But, this feeds into a society where women are dependent and cannot be an independently functioning individual.

In the midst of this multi-generational fervour of female empowerment and independence, we overlook the women who still face misogyny. The notion of equality and independence in making one’s life choices is considered a distant dream.

Driving symbolises freedom. But, is this symbolism taken advantage of by the Pakistani government? Is the freedom in driving a political excuse in feigning for gender equality? Reality check: women’s every decision is bound to a male guardian. Women still need to be driven around and seek to permission to drive.

Can politics change the roots of a patriarchal society? Or does the very society itself have to change?


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