HYDERABAD: With the mantra ‘women drivers for women commuters,’ a non-profit startup in Hyderabad is training women from marginalised sections to drive vehicles. Dhairya Foundation, which was founded last year, aims to increase the participation of women from lower income groups in the workforce.
Speaking to Express, the co-founder of the venture, Prasanna Dommu, said: “Though the pandemic has thrown a spanner in our work, we have trained four women to drive auto-rickshaws till now. Most of these women want to ferry schoolchildren in their autos within five km radius of their houses. In this way, they can reach their homes quickly to fulfil their family duties. An auto driver can earn upto Rs 20,000 per month, which is much more than what they earn as domestic helps. The training is provided free of cost.”
But teaching women how to drive comes with its set of social ramifications. “During our registration drive, we noticed that the husbands and in-laws of most of the women were not comfortable with the idea of the women driving and becoming self-reliant. They want women to stick to the traditional jobs of cleaning and even tailoring. Many of the men, who are also drivers, did not want their wives to earn as much as they do,” says Prasanna.
The startup, incubated at WE Hub, was founded by Prasanna and Tindu Nikhat. These two women, who used to work in the same company, bonded over their passion to create something which would have a social impact. Having experienced the safety risks women have to face in the absence of women drivers, they realised that training women to be drivers could have overreaching effects on how women perceive public spaces.
“Millions of women in India are from economically-weak backgrounds and survive on a day-to-day basis with no steady source of income. Most of these women are illiterate or have only rudimentary education, which forces them to depend on unsteady jobs like domestic help, daily labour, factory workers, etc. to earn a livelihood. Many of them, especially those who are single (widowed, never married or abandoned), subsist on incentives and loans extended by self-help groups, which though a major source of support, do not often equip these women with skills that translate into income generation in the long run.
"Lack of awareness and basic skills limit such women from utilising their potential and abilities to become financially independent,” says Prasanna, who has 15 years of experience of working in diverse industries such as infrastructure, food, FMCG and IT. Currently, the startup is focussing on holding a crowdfunding campaign to enable the four trained women buy the auto-rickshaws they are driving. They are also training women to drive bikes, so that they can be recruited by e-commerce companies as delivery executives.
— Kakoli Mukherjee