Helena Cristina at the wheel

"A woman's place is also behind the wheel, if she wishes"

Five women tell about their relationship with cars and driving and show their daily struggles against male chauvinism in traffic - and in life.

March 6, 2020 - In Brazil they say that “A woman at the wheel is constant danger”. Have you ever thought about the number of times women hear this chauvinistic phrase — both in a “joking” manner and with the intention of insulting them — and how they feel? The reflection is valid not only because it is a prejudiced rhyme disguised as a popular saying, but because it is far from being true.

In Brazil, only 15% of the compensations paid to drivers for traffic accidents in 2018 were aimed at women, according to data released by Seguradora Líder, responsible for administering mandatory insurance in the country (Dpvat). The difference is significant, especially considering that the number of female drivers on the streets of Brazil differs less and less than the number of male drivers. According to the latest survey by Detran SP, 40% of the 24 million National Driver's License (CNHs) registered in the State of São Paulo belong to women. In addition, they also love cars: about 70% of purchasing decisions are made by women.

Helena Cristina at the wheelFor Helena Cristina, driving means freedom and independence. She got her driver's license when she was 40 years old and is very proud of this achievement.

Nevertheless, they continue to face prejudice in traffic. “I’ve already heard a lot of sexist jokes”, says retired nurse technician Helena Cristina dos Santos Bastos, 63 years old. She got her license at age 40. “I used to go to the supermarket and carry everything on my shoulders and head. I had to ask the neighbors to take my girls to the doctor”, she says. She considers this an incredible achievement. “For me, it is synonymous with independence and freedom. I love to drive. I want to and I can!”.

Cris believes that this stance came from her mother's legacy, which she says was a woman ahead of her time. “My mother was a black woman, the granddaughter of slaves, working in an iron train locomotive workshop and struggling to raise ten children. She was very proud to be able to buy her own car. She was my role model”, she says. "She taught me that we women have to find our place and conquer our dreams".

In order to get her license, Cris began to work as a cleaning lady to pay for her driving school little by little, without anyone knowing. With over two decades having a license she has never had a fine or an accident. Mother of three women, she makes it a point of passing on what she learned from her mother: a woman can do anything, including driving, if that is her will. "What is the difference? The fact that I'm a woman? I have the same ability to be a good driver”, she reflects. “A woman's place is also behind the wheel, if she wants to”, she adds.

"When I’m all worked up about something, I get into the car and drive around"

Esther in her JeepEsther is passionate about the Jeep brand and gave herself a Compass as a gift when she retired. Her goal now is to get a Renegade to go on off-road adventures.

Just like Cris, who loves to drive to relax and doesn't even mind the chaotic traffic in Belo Horizonte (MG), where she lives, retired administrative assistant Esther Rose de Almeida Mendes, 56, reports a similar feeling in São Paulo (SP). “I feel powerful driving. If I am feeling anxious, I then feel calm”, she says. She considers being behind the wheel her great pleasure: "When I’m all worked up about something, I get into the car and drive around".

Esther is passionate about automobiles and a few years ago started a love relationship with the Jeep brand because she loves adventures and off-road experiences. “I broke free after retiring. I decided to give myself a Jeep as a present to myself for all my years of struggling. I took on my curly hair and filled my left arm with tattoos”, she says, proudly.

Since she was little, she had a dream (literally, without the metaphorical interpretation!) that she worked in a place full of cars. That was it: she spent a good part of her life working professionally in dealerships. “There is a big prejudice, people think that women don't understand cars. I used to sell cars and I even heard that I didn't have the 'right look' for the job, because I'm a woman and because I'm black”, she says. Similar situations have already happened in traffic, with phrases like "your place is in the kitchen" which she has heard many times.

Esther says that she started to like the four wheeled universe because of her “step grandfather”, her mother Lídia's boss, when working as a cleaning lady. “We had nowhere to live, let alone have a car, and that was my dream. I managed to do it: I was over twenty years old!”. She was the one who encouraged her husband to take an interest in cars, and says she is always upset when, at dealerships, salespeople will talk to him directly, thinking she doesn't understand anything about cars. "He says: ' she’s the one who understands, she’s the one who commands'", he narrates.

“A passenger told me once that the right steering wheel for me was the lid on the pan”

Another person who has loved cars since childhood is Viviane Andrea de Carpini, who is 40 years old and the first mobile app driver in Belo Horizonte, for the past four years. “My grandfather was a bus driver and he liked to buy old cars and restore them in his garage. I remember the smells when I was polishing parts for him”, she recalls. The father's family also had an auto parts shop. Viviane has two brothers, but she was the only one who inherited this passion for generations.

She says that many passengers look at her funny when they realize that it’s a woman answering the call. One of the most explicit cases of sexism that she has ever suffered happened at the end of a ride. “After all the care and dedication, I had to hear from the passenger that the right steering wheel for me was the lid on the pan. This is a ridiculous situation”. Even more when you consider that Viviane has collected praises from passengers on the nearly eight thousand trips she has already made: “They say that I am an excellent driver, attentive and that I value safe driving”, she says.

Viviane, mobile app driverViviane has been passionate about cars since she was a little girl and loved helping her grandfather renovate old cars. Today, she is a mobile app driver (the first woman in the city) and loves her work.

The driver, who has already experienced other disrespectful situations on the job, had the unfortunate event of having to put a passenger out the door. “This guy asked how much I would make driving that day. When I answered he said that I could earn a lot more if I spent the night with him and his friends”, she recalls, emphasizing the absurdity of what she went through. "I kept thinking about all the women who go through things like that."

"I used to dream of turning 18 to get my license and today my job is to drive"

“Driving, for me, is freedom. I love to drive!” says Mariana Magalhães Ribeiro, 31, who is an FCA test driver. She feels that she has fulfilled a dream by making her childhood passion her professional activity. This feeling was born out of admiration for her father's profession, who worked as a truck driver. "I have good memories of traveling with my parents when I was about six years old." But she wanted more than just sit in the passenger’s seat. “I dreamed of turning 18 to get my license, I couldn't wait to drive. It was my focus, my goal”, she says.

The car has become Mariana's working environment, who needs to evaluate it in view of the FCA customer experience, ensuring the warranty. "I have to check safety items, mirrors, steering wheel, gear, engine, everything", she explains. It is a job that requires extreme responsibility, and the fact that she got this position made her father admit that yes, she is a good driver.

Mariana and the Jeep CompassMariana dreamed of turning 18 to get a license and gets her inspiration from her father, a truck driver. She is an FCA test driver and believes that her son's generation will be less sexist.

“I know that I am qualified for what I do; That's what’s important". She has a 12-year-old son, João Gabriel, and makes it a point of deconstructing prejudices in his education. “He praises me a lot, he loves to drive with me. I believe that his generation can be different ”.

"If I had gotten more support, today I would not be so afraid of driving"

Researcher Verônica SoaresProfessor and researcher Verônica is part of the statistics of Brazilian women who are afraid to drive because of the lack of support and encouragement and constant criticism.

About two million Brazilians are afraid to drive, according to an estimate announced by the Brazilian Association of Traffic Medicine (Abramet). The survey also shows that about 80% of these people are women. In the face of so much discouragement and so many sexist curses that women endure in traffic, together with the lack of incentive contained in the idea that “women and drivers don’t go together”, the statistics are not surprising.

“It is a cultural issue. At a time of fragility and insecurity, when I took my driver’s ed, my father did not give me the most adequate support and resorted to criticism and distrust. But the approach with my brother, a few years younger, was quite different”, says the researcher and professor Verônica Soares da Costa, 34 years old. She believes that if the incentive had been different, she would have been able to be safer and more confident in traffic. Verônica has not driven since 2012, and today feels that she would panic if she drove .

For her, the data gives the opportunity for us to rethink the relationship between women and cars, through education - after all, boys are usually encouraged from a young age to enjoy speed when they receive toys and video games related to cars and driving - and the culture of what it means to drive. “We should no longer think that a car belongs to the man in the family. A car is also for women”, says Verônica.


FCA has an Inclusion and Diversity platform, which aims at strengthening policies and practices of gender equity. FCA was the first in the automotive sector to join the ‘Movimento Mulher 360’ ( Women's Movement 360), an initiative that brings together organizations that are committed to the theme.

Among the opportunities implemented to increase female participation in the corporate environment, FCA started to monitor the number of women in the succession plan, with a focus on equality in leadership, in addition to changing the criteria in the selection process for the internship program, as to guarantee equal opportunities for women and blacks.

“Diversity and inclusion increase the potential for innovation and, consequently, the competitiveness of our businesses. In addition to attracting professionals from different groups so that there is representation, it is essential to continuously work to create awareness preparing the organization so that these people can truly be included, not only for the new professionals but for those who are already within the organization and rising to higher positions”, says FCA's Human Resources Director for Latin America, Érica Baldini.

Check out the video we made with the interviewees Viviane, Mariana and Cris.

Words: Bárbara Caldeira

Pictures: Marketing FCA / Personal archives

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