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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 November 2006, 18:12 GMT
Russia's women drivers fight back
By James Rodgers
BBC News, Moscow

A Russian driver
Women still face prejudice on Russia's roads

For decades, Russia's women drivers have been laughed off the roads by their male counterparts.

Now, a new magazine, Woman at the Wheel, aims to give them a proud identity.

Car ownership has become a massive status symbol in post-communist Russia. As a result, the roads are clogged by cars in numbers that Soviet planners never foresaw.

Motoring in Moscow has traditionally been just for men. Polishing a prized set of wheels is one cleaning job a Russian male will not immediately dismiss as women's work.

The title of the new magazine has been deliberately chosen to challenge the stereotype. "Woman at the wheel" has the same ring in Russian as "Ah! Women drivers!" might have in English.

How to exit a car

Varvara Nekrasova is the editor. I caught up with her at a Moscow car wash, where her car was being given careful attention - by an all-male crew of cleaners.

Ms Nekrasova's stylish green spectacle frames match her leather driving gloves. She is a walking - or should that be driving - advertisement for the magazine which she says combines fashion and motoring.

Varvara Nekrasova, magazine editor
Varvara Nekrasova says her magazine combines motoring and fashion

"In Russia, a lot of women have started to drive in the last five years, and they need a special magazine," she explains.

"It's more simple, more feminine of course, because in the magazine we have not only cars, but very special things: psychology, fashion."

Alongside the expected reviews of new cars, the first issue carried an article on how to get over the "fear factor" and start driving.

There was a photo feature on how to get out of a car elegantly - with illustrations of celebrities in action.

New wave

Alisa Gaposhina and Tatiana Solivyeva are typical of Ms Nekrasova's target readers. They are both 24 and have been driving for 6 years.

Exact figures are hard to come by but, in the same period, the number of women drivers in Russia is estimated to have increased by up to 50%.

Alisa and Tatiana have seen signs of prejudice along the road, but it is not stopping them.

"If there is a woman in a difficult situation everyone will pass by and say 'Oh it's a woman, a stupid woman, behind the wheel'," Alisa says.

Women are by nature more shy. They might get scared
Sergei Talanukhin
Driving instructor
"But the situation is getting better and better. Six years ago it was worse," Tatiana adds.

"Now they are getting used to us," Alisa sums up, with a laugh.

Alisa and Tatiana are part of a new wave of women drivers. They are taking to the road for several reasons.

Post-communist Russia has produced a new class of female professionals. Alisa works in advertising, Tatiana for the Moscow branch of a multinational company.

They have got the income and the access to consumer goods their parents' generation could not dream of.

Today's cars are easier to drive than their more clunky Soviet counterparts.

'Emotional'

Like every revolution, this one has its opponents.

Sergei Talanukhin has been a driving instructor for almost 10 years.

He has noticed a massive increase in the number of female learners. He is not sure if it is good for road safety in Russia.

"Women are by nature more shy. They might get scared," he told me during a break in a lesson he was giving.

"They might close their eyes, like this." Sergei warms to his role and covers his eyes with his hands.

"There's one more little detail: their emotions. Sometimes it's really hard for them to control their emotions," he concludes.

So women drivers in Russia are still subject to prejudice.

But, as the country's economy continues to grow, so does the number of cars on the road.

More and more of them will have women at the wheel.


SEE ALSO
Soviet cars go under the hammer
13 Apr 06 |  Europe
Country profile: Russia
08 Oct 06 |  Country profiles



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