Driving While Female (by Sehin Teferra)

Shopping around for insurance for my new car over the last week, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that at least one of the private insurance firms in town offers a discount to women drivers which it considers to be more ‘tenkaka’ than male drivers. 

I appreciate this gesture because it is not condescending. The insurance company is not bidding to ‘help’ women in the spirit of affirmative action, nor is their policy a box ticked to ‘maberetatat’ half of the Ethiopian citizenry which is apparently lagging behind. Globally, women are recognized to be in fewer car accidents than men so it simply makes good business sense to offer them insurance at a lower premium.

I can also live with the term ‘tenkaka’; as a woman driver, I have been labeled a lot worse. There is a school of thought that as in management, women’s style of driving is qualitatively different from men’s. In a US study done by Quality Planning, men are fined for reckless driving 3.41 more times than women. While trying to avoid the potholes of stereotypes, women for the most are recognized to speed less and yield more often to their fellow passengers.

However, in a world dominated by male values, these ‘feminine’ traits are under-rated. What the agency considers ‘tenkaka’ may be called ‘feri’ by others, and slower pace as well as considerate or defensive driving may be dismissed by our more impatient drivers as indecisive.

This is not to say women do not drive aggressively. I have a woman friend who has probably whipped past you like the wind on Bole road, and another who can out-yell any minibus driver. In fact, a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, also from the US, found that while driving, women are taking risks more than ever before. But the point is that such aggressiveness is not recognized as broadening the range of driving by women drivers – a high form of praise among my male friends is ‘she drives like a man.’ I doubt the reverse would apply, a ‘tenkaka’ male driver being commended for driving like a woman.

As in Mathematics and technology, women have been told for so long that they are bad at driving that they are afraid to be good at it. Driving is considered so much in the domain of maleness that women taxi drivers are as rare as the meskel wef, and women bus drivers merit an appearance on national TV.

However, the world is moving beyond dichotomies and as in management, we can surely be more inclusive of different styles of driving. As a nation with one of the highest rates of road fatalities as a proportion of the driving population, maybe we should espouse the less aggressive style of driving attributed to women. Perhaps if we had more women Isuzu drivers, we would have less road-related tragedies.

In the meantime, I am taking my business to the insurance company that is smart enough to recognize my style of driving is a safer bet.

Sehin is a new mom and a PhD candidate in Gender Studies at the University of London.

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Love & Light

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