Women and men are equal as per the laws of the land. But the turfs are different when it comes to acquiring driving licenses in Nepal.
At the Baggi Khana in Kathmandu, as driving license seekers queue up with two-wheelers to clear the hurdles of the driving license test, five poles each separated by a distance of 2.7 meters are set in a straight line.
The license test authorities, the representatives from the Department of Transport Management (DoTM), Metropolitan Traffic Police Division (MTPD) and Transport Management Office ready as applicants wait for their turns for the trial.
A male rider in a scooter advances as the test authorities call out his name. He accelerates gradually and swerves between the poles, carefully, making an ‘S’-like trail. As he advances to the fourth pole, his balance is lost and the scooter’s rear hits the pole. The rider fails the trial.
Next on queue is a female rider. But just before she advances for the trial, there’s a little change of plans. A staff shifts the five poles, widening the space between them. The authorities nod to the alteration and none of the examinees complain. After a group of female riders take their turn one after another, the poles are adjusted back to the standard spacing.
“The special provision for female riders is to encourage them to get driving licenses,” says Traffic Police Inspector Nawaraj Thapa, representative of MTPD for driving license test. “However, the current license trial examination doesn’t observe the aptitude of any rider. To acquire a driving license on the basis of swerving around the poles isn’t enough and not practical at all. Also, the categorization of motorbikes, scooters and mopeds in one group is unwise.”
The directive for driving license test grants female riders the aforementioned privilege. The directive clearly states that the distance between the poles for male riders is 2.7 meters while for female riders, it’s 2.8 meters.
“Many rules have become outdated and need to be replaced by reliable ones along with the special rule for female riders. However, we haven’t received any suggestion or order from the DoTM,” says Ananda Kesari Pokharel, chief of Driving License Unit at the Transport Management Office.
At the DoTM, however, policies to introduce new rules and regulations are underway, as per Planning Officer Ramesh Dahal.
“Revisions of the rules are underway. We’re trying to separate scooters and motorcycles in different categories, the distance between the poles to be decided according to the vehicles, not genders,” says Dahal.
And the new policies would not only terminate the special privileges for female riders but also introduce a host of other regulations.
“We are also working to revising the test according to the presence of gears in the two-wheelers. Many male riders take the license trial exams on scooters but ride gear-equipped bikes once they get hold of the license. So the categorization of motorcycles and scooters in a same group is also going to change.”
For Bina KC, 22, who has been riding a scooter for the past four years, this is a welcome change.
“The special rule for females during the license trial examination is unnecessary. The difference in the rule doesn’t make any sense because when you take to the road, the road etiquette and traffic rules don’t differ. The license issuing system isn’t at all fair. There should be an instructor as a pillion rider who will analyze our skills with riding and ease with traffic rules. Otherwise, the license trial looks like a joke.”
Traffic Police Inspector Sitaram Hachhethu trashes the special rule for female riders as pointless. “Am I supposed not to book female riders for their breach of traffic rules, then?” he asks.
“We are still in the stone age in case of driving license exams. Nowhere in the world is a ten-minute written test and a drive test of less than 30 seconds taken as qualifier for a driving license. In other countries, obtaining license is regarded as a big achievement after rigorous training. Getting a license issued in your name almost equals graduating with a degree, with compulsory illustrated theoretical and practical courses.”
Inspector Thapa, on the other hand, says that, according to the accidents data, the ratio of male riders meeting with accidents is way higher than female riders.
“This proves that female riders are less reckless and more careful. On top of that, females usually ride scooters which have speed limits unlike the 200cc gear bikes,” he adds.
MTPD data from April 13 to June 4 in 2011 shows that there were a total of 395 accident cases on two-wheelers, out of which 364 cases were of male riders whereas only 31 were female riders.
But Hachhethu warns that one should not rely on the current statistics. “These are the statistics as of now, which doesn’t guarantee that there will not be any major accidents with female riders.”
The special rule for female riders on cultural basis, however, causes resentment from young female drivers like KC.
Sumnima Dewan, 23, who has been driving for the past four years, is against the special provision for females in license trial exams.
“It represents the gender stereotypical attitude of the male-dominated society. For me, the rule suggests that women aren’t as capable as men,” says Dewan.
“The rule was relevant in the past when there was less traffic and few women riders. But we’ve realized that this needs revision in the current context since the traffic has increased and both the male and female riders will be eventually riding on the same road,” says Dahal. “It’s ridiculous to have different rules for license trial exam when the traffic rules for both genders are the same.”