Young women riding motorbikes are set to emerge soon as a regular sight in Dhaka. Females straddled to speeding motorcycles have lately been fleeting glimpses on the Dhaka streets. The spectacle is on way to going beyond the ambit of amateurism. Already considered a break with the male-dominated transport sector, the scene speaks of the imperative of necessity. Against the backdrop of the fraught situation facing women passengers on buses, a section of them are opting for independent rides on motorbikes. These two-wheelers are specially designed for women; and are known in the sub-continent as 'scooty'. The public transport sector is yet to be cleansed of the spectre of sexual assaults. There are other adversities experienced by Dhaka's bus-travelling women commuters. Given these impediments to women's bus rides, their resorting to scooties comes as a corollary. That a sense of helplessness coupled with desperation is behind the new practice is implied.
The strong urge to keep themselves secure and remain independent has lately been propelled by the driving training centres operating in the capital. Evidently a new development, these private driving schools impart motorbike-ride training to interested women. Women are invited to get linked to certain Facebook pages in order to get enrolled in the month-long courses. The response from candidates is said to be encouraging. The aspiring motorcycle riders include doctors, office employees and business women. Housewives and students have also come up to train themselves on how to use motorcycles. That the driving schools are run by female entrepreneurs speaks eloquently of a fellow-feeling and camaraderie among women. One such school in Dhaka's Tejgaon area employs a chief female trainer, under whom three males impart hands-on training to the learners. It's owned by a venturesome female entrepreneur. The school has trained a total of 16 women in last April. Visibly satisfied with the number of successful trainees, it hopes to provide training to 360 women by the next year. The school also helps the fresh scooty riders get driving licenses.
Running a females-only driving school is no cake walk. Like other ventures it, too, has to put up with a number of conventional drawbacks. Being focused on women clients and run by women, the tradition-bound ambience stands out here as the chief stumbling block. In conformity with the general perception, women in business are normally viewed as poor performers in the sector. The popular belief prompts a token protest with the focus shifting to female-run driving schools. It is all because enterprising women have come forward to make women's movement independent and free of mainly male-created hazards. The whole episode, however, runs the risk of sparking the ire of obscurants, as well as attracting local hoodlums. In this presumably critical situation, it is the government which can stand by the women.
Besides removing the many infrastructural constraints, the policymakers can help create a secure and undisturbed atmosphere for these schools. Since sufficient investment is sine qua non for a fledgling venture to take off, the government can provide loans on easy terms to the aspiring entrepreneurs. Financial incentives, arranged by private-sector lenders, are also expected to see a rise in the number of these driving schools. Thanks to the veritable failure of women's-only buses to meet the commuters' requirements, the motorbikes can make a difference. Since there will, in most likelihood, be no dearth of enthusiastic learners, the spectacle of scooty-driving women moving confidently in Dhaka might one day become a metonymy for the capital.
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