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Driving the wheels of change

‘Women with Wheels’ initiative by Azad Foundation and Sakha Consulting Wings has trained around 2,000 women of whom around 1,000 are working as professional drivers

Published on December 20, 2020 at 3:14 pm

Updated on March 20, 2021 at 06:51 am

Khushi works as a driving faculty at Azad Foundation.

Khushi’s family migrated to Delhi from Jhansi, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, in search of better work opportunities to pay off their debts. She picked up small jobs as a domestic worker and helper at a parlour for supporting her family along with her father. Khushi heard about professional driving for women in 2008 and the idea appealed to her instantly. She had to battle the concern from family and suspicions of her neighbours during her training and initial years of work as a driver. After completion of training, Khushi worked as a private driver for two years and then as a commercial driver; and helped her family get out of debt.

When Azad Foundation advertised for a female driving faculty, Khusi applied and today she proudly trains young women like her to pursue a career as a female professional driver. Khushi today is the primary breadwinner in her family, she has bought a plot of land and built a house for her family, she educates her siblings and inspires more young women who join Azad Foundation to pursue their careers.

Trained cab drivers in Jaipur.

The project “Women with Wheels”, an initiative by Azad Foundation and Sakha Consulting Wings, aims to provide livelihood with dignity to poor women by engaging them in viable and remunerative non-traditional livelihood options like commercial driving. The idea of livelihood with dignity for women emerges from the concept of decent work as envisioned by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). In India, despite a growing economy, women‘s work participation continues to decline and the reason is that a substantial proportion of young women, more than one in five women, not in employment, education or training (NEET).

Majority of the women (about 95%) are working in the informal sector which has no social security net and very vulnerable conditions of employment. It is in this context that non-traditional livelihoods can help women expand their economic opportunities to expose them to opportunities that are more remunerative and create enabling conditions within the existing market which is very gendered. The idea of “Women with Wheels” is to help break patriarchal boundaries and structures so that the women from underprivileged backgrounds can exercise control over their lives, enjoy full citizenship, earn a livelihood with dignity and generate wealth and value for all. This is done through just transformative skill-building that equips resource-poor women with knowledge and skills so that they excel as professionals and entrepreneurs and earn a livelihood with dignity in jobs and markets that are traditionally closed for them.

Technical training.

The project aims to work with resource-poor women, especially women who are from marginalised backgrounds in urban resettlement colonies across intersections of caste, class and religion. In the year 2018-19, 45% of the women were from lower caste groups and 15% from minority religious groups and approximately 80% were below the poverty line as per World Bank norms. The project also engages with the families and communities (especially young men) in which these women reside, helping to create an enabling environment. This is done through community-level engagement to build awareness around women in non-traditional livelihoods, helping community access identity documents, government social benefits like pension schemes, health schemes etc. The project also involves liaison with local civil society working in the resource-poor urban communities to help in reaching out and working closely at the community level.

The key objectives of the “Women with Wheels” programme are to organise, facilitate and manage a transformative capacity building programme using non-traditional livelihood (NTL) platform and to upscale it to new locations through strategic partnerships; to promote and build the environment for gender equality which supports women to adopt non-traditional livelihoods with dignity and men to challenge concepts of masculinity in their lives; and to undertake action research, advocate & influence CSO, government (transport department) corporate and other policymakers towards a more favourable ecosystem for women in NTL with special focus on “Women with Wheels”.
The core activity of “Women with Wheels” programme is to train and prepare women with low economic and social capital to become professional drivers, enhances their awareness of rights, and provides them with opportunities of self-empowerment (this training is undertaken by Azad Foundation). Qualified women drivers are provided employment opportunities in partnership with Sakha Consulting Wings Pvt. Ltd. Sakha, based on the social enterprise for-profit model, provides safe private chauffeur and cab services for women by women.

Trainee drivers learning how to prepare licence.

For resource-poor women to be able to choose and retain non-traditional livelihoods and exercise their rights, Azad Foundation undertakes a range of community initiatives and advocacy efforts to build an enabling eco-system at the community as well as macro level. At the community level, these include strengthening of young women’s leadership to work towards positive changes in women at the grassroots level, working with adolescent girls in schools to develop their perspective and life skills and the work with young men towards gender justice.

As structural changes within the wider policy and corporate environment are crucial to dismantling systematic barriers to women accessing non-traditional livelihoods, Azad Foundation also undertakes action research, advocates and influences CSOs, government, corporate and other policymakers towards a more favourable ecosystem for women in non-traditional livelihoods. This area of work includes establishing the network of organisations (32 members) involved in non-traditional livelihoods (NTLs) for women in India to strengthen the NTL sector and facilitate collaborative advocacy.

The programme “Women with Wheels” has trained around 2,000 women of whom around 1,000 are working as professional drivers across Delhi, Jaipur, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Indore, Lucknow and Bhubaneswar where Azad Foundation operates in alliance with like-minded partners. In terms of impact, the women drivers who are working with Sakha have been able to generate cumulative earnings of more than 11 crore INR (1.5m $) over the years. At an individual level when analysis of earnings is done, young women who were earning before joining the WoW programme had an average income of INR 5,000 but after being employed as chauffers post-training they have been able to earn an average salary which is almost two times their initial salary. Besides, Sakha which is a transport service for women by women has been able to offer more than 1 million safe rides to woman users. This impact data emerges from ongoing internal analysis of Azad Foundation and Sakha. In addition, more than 6,000 resource-poor women have also been able to challenge their existing structures by claiming their rights, eg claiming citizenship, rejecting violence, reclaiming mobility.

Firsts to its credit:

  • First in India to provide women chauffeurs for private placement
  •  First all-women cab service in India
  • Gave Delhi its first woman bus driver with Delhi Transport Corporation
  • First women drivers placed with UNICEF, US Embassy, five star hotels, Delhi Commission for Women and Municipal Corporation of Indore



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