Women on Wheels: Driving for Women’s Empowerment in India

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SEATTLE, Washington — India is the second-most populated country in the world and home to nearly 700,000 women and girls, yet less than a third of Indian women are currently active in the workforce. Women’s empowerment in India has received more attention in recent years, and one NGO is working to help disadvantaged Indian women achieve financial independence with one specific method: an all-women cab company. The Azad Foundation’s Women on Wheels program empowers impoverished women in India by providing them with a stable source of income and a safe environment where women can travel without fear of being harassed.

What is the Azad Foundation?

Meenu Vader founded the Azad Foundation in Delhi in May 2008. Since its creation, the foundation has expanded to other regions. The Azad Foundation aims to provide “livelihoods with dignity for resource-poor women” in India.

The NGO’s founder and CEO, Meenu Vadera, has a long history of working for gender equality and women’s empowerment in India and other countries. A self-described feminist, Vadera has a master’s degree from the London School of Economics. For six years, she served as Country Director for Action Aid in Uganda. Vadera is also the creator of the Women on Wheels program and acts as CEO for Sakha Cabs.

The Women on Wheels program

The Women on Wheels (WoW) program has been a focal point of the Azad Foundation. Today the program is active in Delhi, Jaipur, Kolkata, Ahmadabad, Bangalore and Indore. As a result, more than 400 trained women are now working as professional drivers in various cities across India.

The WoW program helps impoverished women learn to drive so they can find careers as cab drivers in India’s urban centers. The program takes six to eight months to complete and mainly serves impoverished women who live in areas with limited career opportunities and unable to complete formal education for one reason or another. As of 2017, 55% of program participants passed their driver’s test and received a permanent license.

However, the program is more than teaching underprivileged women how to drive. WoW aims to grow women’s empowerment in India by providing impoverished women with the guidance and support they need to become financially independent members of society. The Azad Foundation’s website states that the WoW program helps its participants “move from the margins [of society]to the mainstream economy,” and the program strives to better “public perceptions about women’s participation” in the workforce.

Advocating for Women’s Empowerment in India

The work of the WoW program has also fostered a community of independent female drivers. The women who go through the program not only learn how to drive, but they also learn how to be confident in themselves and act as advocators for women’s empowerment in India. The Azad Foundation provides all its program participants with domestic abuse counseling and courses on women’s rights and prevention of sexual harassment and violence. Through these efforts, program participants learn how to protect themselves and other at-risk women. According to the WoW program, its primary goal is to “ensure the trained women drivers are empowered to protect their lives and dignity and that of other vulnerable members of their family and communities.”

The Azad Foundation’s Women on Wheels program has not only given hundreds of Indian women financial security, but it also works to build women’s empowerment in India through its network of strong, independent female drivers who can advocate for themselves and others.

—Jackie McMahon
Photo: Flickr

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