Text by Sajeet M. Rajbhandari
With experience ranging from driving three-wheeled Tuk Tuks to mini buses to taxi cabs, Mina Chand Thakuri certainly knows the ins and outs of the public transportation sector in Nepal. With this experience and the urgency to help fellow women make a living for themselves, Thakuri along with a handful of ladies managed to set up Nepal Transport Women Driver Group (NTWDG); a non-profit dedicated solely to helping struggling women both socially and economically through jobs as drivers. In the eight years since its inception and with over 600 individuals taught, NTWDG has constantly strived to uplift the status of women in the nation as well as making it acceptable for women to work in the transport sector. Excerpts:
What do the current times hold for women drivers in Nepal?
When you hear the word ‘woman driver’, a lot of people hold the mentality that they are weak and unskilled. However from the people who we have managed to help out, they are all doing well and are competitive drivers. When you compare a lady driver to a woman who simply stays at home, you immediately see that even the minimal earnings and savings that you get from working as a driver really go a long way towards making a woman independent. What we came to figure out was that while these women do want to work and empower themselves, issues such as finances, family struggles and distance become major hindrances stopping them from learning how to drive commercially.
Driving is viewed as a predominantly male occupation, what kind of reception do women drivers get from their male counterparts?
When it comes to male drivers, there are those that try to understand the internal situations that revolve around a lady driver, some are willing to be positive while others treat them as gullible and even demean them. There are instances where a lady driver shares too much information with someone hoping that it’ll lead to a better job opportunity and ends up in a vulnerable situation.
What kind of services does NTWDG provide and to whom is it catered to?
Our main target is women who have been held back socially, economically, politically or culturally. We are ready to teach and help any woman who wants to get up on her own feet and become independent. From women who live alone to ladies who sell corn from push carts to the ones who don’t have an occupation, NTWDG is for any woman who wants to be self-reliant.
We basically help women learn how to drive and to ensure that they are capable drivers with a commercial skill. At NTWDG, we are all women who have gone through different hardships in life and we are more than happy to help a fellow woman stand up again. Further we also have provisions to provide education for children of women who can’t afford it at Mount Gauri Shankar School at a minimal fee.
Has NTWDG received any support from the government?
I personally feel that the government is seriously lacking when it comes to helping women drivers. There are a lot of women who are more than capable of filling in what is usually thought to be a man’s job. Be it driving a heavy vehicle or serving as a government sanctioned driver. It would be really helpful for both NTWDG and women drivers if the government was willing to help us infrastructurally and economically. When we approach designated authorities with plans, all we get is sugar coated words and project titles that get trashed out as soon as we walk out. What these people don’t realise is that some of the women aren’t even sure where their next meal is going to come from. There isn’t even a minimum quota system for women drivers in government offices.
What are your plans in the years to come?
One of the biggest problems we found when we started our work was that women lack awareness to come and ask for help and assistance they need. Women often see other woman drivers earning for themselves and would yearn to do the same but have no clue as to how they could get help. Word of mouth has helped increase awareness in recent times and now we have more women coming to learn to become commercial drivers.
In the years to come NTWDG wants to be able to get women to start driving more heavy vehicles. Currently all of us working at NTWDG contribute Rs 200 each month to cover our fuel and maintenance costs. Occasionally, we do get donors to help us financially but we would love establish a concrete financial source so that we can keep helping more women.