Making it to the driver’s seat

An increasing number of women are driving their way to financial independence

Since 2006, the Association for Non-Traditional Employment for Women (ANEW) has ensured 350 women got trained to operate autorickshaws. Around 50% of them are currently working as autorickshaw drivers, according to data from ANEW.

SPEED (Slum People Education and Economic Development) Trust, a charitable public trust that empowers widows and destitutes to wield the handlebar, has a database of 25 women auto drivers.

Autorickshaws bearing the sticker “Pink Auto” are among the latest additions to the road. An initiative of Rotary District 3232, its objective is to provide 200 women from an underprivileged background training, and post-training, autorickshaws.

The fact that many women commuters wanted to hire autos operated by women drivers has helped these initiatives.

In Magalir Auto, an initiative launched in 2017, women drivers ferry only women passengers.

A steady income

S. Jayanthi, an autorickshaw driver since 2004, says when she entered the profession, there were probably only six women autodrivers.

Three-wheeler class being conducted by SPEED Trust. Photo: Special Arrangement  

“Many of us took to this profession driven by a financial need. Now, I see many women, some with impressive educational qualification, getting into this field,” says Jayanthi, a single mother who raised her two children with the income earned driving a three-wheeler.

Flexibility and a steady income are other reasons why they decide to work as auto drivers.

R. Mohana turned auto driver three years ago after her husband left her and her two daughters. Until then, she was working as domestic help, and she knew the salary would not help her meet ends. One of the first things she did was buy an autorickshaw in her name.

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“That’s better than paying a rent to an owner. Here, I am my own owner and I repay the loan every month,” says 35-year-old Mohana, a resident of Aminijikarai.

Lockdown marked a tough phase for auto drivers. Otherwise, there has not been much to complain about. Working with Ola and Uber, she is assured of earning at least ₹1000 a day, she says.

In the pre-COVID days, she would ferry children to schools and that would add to her income.

“Being an auto driver, you have flexibility in terms of time, and it is possible to be your own boss,” says Mohana, who avoids taking trips beyond 8 p.m.

Additional training

Non-profits working in this area say wherever there is a good support system at home women continue with the profession.

Anu Chandran, founder-member and Vinodini Sudhindran, president, ANEW, say 50 per cent of the students who have been trained by them, have their spouse also driving an auto.

They note that in recent years, particularly in 2018-19, many women have approached them to be helped to become auto drivers.

Some had a license but did not have the on-field experience or a badge and wanted ANEW to train them, they say. At least 13 women were trained in a project lead by Rotary Club, they say.

Training in self-defence and soft-skills is part of the curriculum at ANEW where training is offered at no cost.

R. Geetha, advisor, Unorganised Workers’ Federation, says more women should enter the transport sector. “We need them as drivers, conductors, auto and cab drivers to enhance safety and make the city women-friendly,” says Geetha. Currently, much of the help that women auto drivers get, comes from NGOs. She says the government must come forward to support them with training and credit to buy an auto.

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