Girls with drive: Meet the female driving instructors making a difference on the road

Finding female driving instructors is not only unusual but also quite unique. It is almost like magic and perhaps society is yet to take it in that such a thing can happen. For being referred to as the weaker sex globally, with some Arab countries totally banning female drivers, seeing a female driving instructor makes news.

Instead of adding to the unemployment numbers, some women are behind the wheel busy teaching others how to drive. Seated in the passenger seat of the car, the instructor directs a learner to fasten their seatbelt, switch on the engine, step on the clutch pedal with their left foot, put the first gear and turn the steering wheel while checking the side mirrors for any on-coming vehicle. The learner’s other foot is steadily kept on the accelerator pedal as her hands gain grip of the steering. The car slowly gathers pace on the road while the instructor occasionally turns the steering wheel to help the driver keep in the right lane.

Behind the instructions is Christine Matovu, one of the few female instructors in Uganda. She has been doing this for the last 10 years and besides the financial benefits, she finds satisfaction in the job because this is the job she loves to do. The Kireka-based instructor quit her job to become self-employed. “I would always pray to God to be self-employed so that I could have enough time for my family.

While she would have preferred another venture, she decided to go into instructing to gently guide others because of the harsh treatment she endured as a learner. “Not all instructors were kind or had customer care. The moment you entered the car, for the first time, they could be gentle and kind, but later some instructors would bark at you,” she narrates. Filling the gapUnlike Matovu, Shamim Ramathan Omar, another female instructor, started her career in her home country, Kenya.

She came to Uganda three years ago on recommendation of her boss to fill the void of female driving instructors here. Omar, from Uganda Driving Standards Agency, says she had been working in Kenya for seven years.Her interest in instructing started with motorbikes. But this was short-lived after she was involved in a nasty accident. “I used to fall many times but I would tell my students to first learn a bicycle before teaching them so that they could learn balancing skills,” Omar recalls. “I preferred car instructing because it was more respected than motorbikes.”

Her passion for cars grew deeper as she rarely saw women drive, let alone instruct while growing up. “I thought there are mainly women who want to learn how to drive, but when I looked around, there were few,” Omar adds. Both women have had to defy society mould to achieve their dreams. Omar, who grew up with Muslim relatives because she rarely saw her parents, says they were restrictive about her “strange” job. “They wanted me to train Muslim women only. They did not believe that I could drive men,” she says. With time, she eventually convinced them that she could.Her friends thought she was crazy but when she drove for the first three months, “They understood that driving was something I loved despite the fact that I also enjoy cooking.”

“When people see you in a veil, they ask, why can’t you get married and you stop doing those childish things? There are some men who would not allow women to teach them, they want women to stay at home, marry, give birth and take care of their children and husband,” she says.

Janet’s one year experience But for Janet Nkozo*, who has spent one year instructing, her mother from the onset was against her job. “My mum feared because there are many cars on the road. She was discouraged because she thought it was dangerous for me, but I convinced her. My friends also thought I could not manage, but I loved it,” Nkozo says. She picked interest while working as an administrator at a driving school.

Planning their schedulesFor Matovu, it is about dividing her time appropriately. In fact, part of this interview was done in a garage. “I start driving at 9am after the children have gone to school and I have prepared my husband to go for work. But when I come back home, I have to make sure that the food is prepared on time and the children sleep early,” she says. She instructs between 10-20 clients daily, depending on the number of clients, and at midday she breaks off for prayers. Omar, a single mother, regularly calls her children in Kenya. She also visits them often and they also come to visit.

Her day normally begins by 7.30am at her work station where she checks engine and water level of her car, among other things and starts instructing at 8am, taking clients at one hour intervals. She prefers to take clients up to 5pm. “I do not have lunch breaks so that I can finish by 5pm. At that time, there is a lot of traffic, so you waste time on the road. Unless it is clients I know are comfortable with driving,” she notes. She teaches between nine to 10 clients a day. Since she is a Muslim, Omar requests her students for 10 minutes break so that she can pray. She carries water and a mat in the car and finds a good place to pray.

For Nkozo, she leaves home at 6.30am and teaches about 15 clients every day at an interval of 30 minutes. Despite this schedule, Nkozo finds time to relax. “I get enough time to rest. I also get time to freshen up and have lunch,” she says, adding that she retires at about 7pm.Sometimes, she is favoured. “When they see a lady with another in the car, they give us way on the road,” she says.

To keep business running, the women mainly depend on referrals and contacts on their cars to get more clients, especially when they know they train well. However, Omar’s employers have a marketer.

Aice They aise motorists to follow guidelines to avoid road accidents. “What you are driving is a machine. It can be fixed but if you are involved in a road accident, you can never be the same again,” Omar says.She urges people to go to driving schools because most people still do not know how to use lights. And the moment they come out from driving school, she aises them to drive with the “L” sign “until they are confident about using the road”. She also aises policemen to be in a suitable place to stop a learner because there might be someone overtaking in a corner and another one coming in the opposite direction which can cause an accident.

Matovu aises instructors to ensure that their students love what they do. “Encourage them so that they can have the determination. Rule out the fear so that they feel that driving is not all about knocking and causing accidents,” she says.

“Being patient with a learner’s weakness is also good because all of us have different characters, but the moment you find those who are slow, you have to be patient, try to ask them what their weaknesses are and encourage them. There is also mental learning,” the mother of four adds.

Nkozo shares similar sentiments and urges motorists to avoid rushing because speed causes a lot of accidents, especially when entering junctions. “They should take care and concentrate before driving because if you lose concentration, you cannot drive. People should use lanes properly, at the roundabout. The government should widen roads and separate them. You can find people using the same road with boda bodas,” she says. Nkozo also finds that women do not take instructing at driving schools as a job. “If many women can join, we can challenge the men. I would like women to join and take it like a serious job, but don’t take the instructors’ job as a hobby only, but as a serious job,” she argues.“If you can drive and believe you can train, then try out. I aise women to join me.”

Matovu aises people to love what they are doing. “Have love for the car and the learners. Stick to what you have been taught even when people say you drive like an old person,” she says.

What learners say of the instructorsJolly*, who was taught by Omar three years ago, remembers her instructor as a calm woman. “She doesn’t rebuke you. She would take you through driving and overcome that fear. She prefers to train a lady. I have recommended so many people to Omar. She is kind and gentle,” Jolly says.

Abraham Okiror, who is currently under Matovu’s instruction, says, “She is calm, doesn’t put pressure on people and is a nice friend, she offers motherly aice.” Another learner, Martha Namubiru, says Matovu is flexible and convenient. She is gentle and kind. Not everyone wants to learn how to drive with a male driving instructor, so if that is you why not look up these ladies for driving lessons like no other.

*Names changed on request

their challengesLike any other job, the women have had their share of challenges, especially being undermined by motorists. “When a girl comes to learn and discovers that the instructor is a woman, they become uncomfortable. They normally think I am a young woman,” Omar says.

The soft-spoken instructor has been able to convince them by encouraging them, and if they are not comfortable, they can change. Her greatest satisfaction, she says, is “When I meet learners who do not even know how to accelerate and I teach them from the start.”

For Matovu, it was some of her male colleagues that doubted her capability. “Most instructors were used to old people, but some encouraged me because they would entrust me with their wives. But some women feared because they thought I would bark at them because we are of the same sex,” she says. In a few instances, police officers have given Omar a hard time on the road to check her documents. “I remember a policeman stopped me at a roundabout and I did not stop. He asked me why and I told him I could stop in the middle of the road,” she says, adding that some do not know that you can learn how to drive with a provisional permit.

In her earlier days in Uganda, Omar was worried about boda bodas. “The first junction I drove on was Wandegeya. There were too many boda bodas on all sides. I asked myself, can I survive?” And she did within a week after being aised to give them space.

The 35-year-old has learnt to rub off insults from boda boda riders and taxi drivers, especially when they see two women in the car. “There are very rude taxi drivers. You have to make sure you avoid abusive language. You have to be hard and not use abusive language,” she says.

On several occasions, Matovu meets women with emotional challenges and cannot proceed unless they are fine. “The moment you see a person driving, you have to start talking to her and when you notice the mood, sometimes I do not instruct them,” she says. The mother of four says she occasionally strikes up a conversation with learners so that they can relax and feel comfortable as they drive.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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