Learner driver program putting refugee and migrant women behind the wheel

 abc.net.au  9/23/2018 1:38:10 AM  2  Rachel Riga

Posted September 23, 2018 11:38:10

A learn-to-drive program in south-east Queensland is empowering refugee and migrant women by tackling the barriers they face in obtaining a driver's licence.

The Women at the Wheel program was created by Access Community Services in Logan, south of Brisbane, last year and helps women gain the required knowledge and practical experience of Australia road rules to gain a provisional Queensland driver's licence.

Access client services general manager Kenny Duke said it was important women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds had the opportunity to learn the road rules in a comfortable environment.

"We were running a lot theoretical lessons but we found the women were struggling to pay for their own licence for various disadvantage reasons," Ms Duke said.

"We now pay for the lessons and we also pay for the licence.

"We try to look for women instructors and ideally someone who speaks their language as well so they feel more comfortable and they're able to explain the rules in both languages."

The theory lessons involved the women practising and learning the road rules on a map using cards with hazards on them and toy cars.

Ms Duke said many of the participants were women at risk or single mums who were trying to support themselves and their families.

"The benefits are massive because it enables them to go for different jobs, to obtain employment, to drive their children to school or pick them up, and it makes them feel more independent," Ms Duke said.

"Some of these women haven't had the opportunity to drive in their countries before, so it's a big fear for them.

"Helping them conquer that fear give them the opportunity to explore more things they never thought of before."

The program currently has six participants from Somalia, Burma, and Afghanistan, with an additional 30 women on the wait list.

Road toll company Transurban has provided the group with a $25,000 grant so the program can keep up with demand.

An empowering experience

Behnaz Sadeghi, 37, who was born in Afghanistan and moved to Australia from Iran in 2013, said she had never been behind the wheel of a car before coming to Queensland.

She said being a part of the program has been an empowering experience.

"I have three sons so I want to get my licence to get a job, to drive everywhere and to drive my children," Ms Sadeghi said.

Ms Sadeghi is gearing up for her P1 licence driving test next month and said she was optimistic she would pass.

"I'm on my learners — I had one test last year but I failed, so the program has helped me a lot to get more lessons so I will try to get my licence," Ms Sadeghi said.

Hadila Sarvery, 26, said the program had helped build her confidence while on her learner licence.

"When I came to Australia from Afghanistan in 2011 I moved to Melbourne and I was really excited to get my learners," Ms Sarvery said.

"I passed on the first go but since then I was looking for a driving program to join and to get my P plates.

"Finally last year I found out about this program and since then I've been going to lessons and getting a lot better."

Ms Sarvery said obtaining her licence would make her more employable and boost her job prospects.

"I have my own car and now I need to get my licence so I can get a better job," Ms Sarvery said.

"I am still studying and maybe one day I can open up my own business."

Celebrating diversity

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said in June last year there were more than 320,000 residents living in the Logan area, with 217 ethnicities represented.

In 2016, 82,867 people who were living in Logan City were born overseas, and 18 per cent arrived in Australia within five years prior to 2016.

Queensland MP for Waterford Shannon Fentiman said the program was driving change in women's lives.

"Clearly there is a huge demand for women to get their driver's licence, to empower them to get their independence, and to get them into employment," Ms Fentiman said.

"Logan is one of those incredible cities that pulls together — we celebrate our diversity — and this is a great example of community coming together where there is a need."

Access Community Services is looking to expand the program to Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

Topics: community-and-society, immigration, education, driver-education, women, refugees, logan-central-4114, brisbane-4000, qld, australia

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