OPINION: Like many Charedi women, not driving a car is entirely my decision

By Malky Davidovits 

International Women’s Day – a day for celebrating woman, for empowering them and for highlighting their right to make their own choices about how they live their lives.  Why then, did Yehudis Fletcher feel the need to criticise Charedi women – on this day of all days – for the way they choose to live? asks Malky Davidovits

An article decrying the choice of many Charedi women not to drive undermines the whole purpose of this international feminist movement.  Despite what Fletcher wants you to think, the decision for a woman not to drive is their choice.  For me this is a very personal matter.

 Whatever you think about my choice, it is purely mine.  Not my husband’s or any other man’s.  Why do you deny my agency?

There are many Charedi women who do drive; it is not a prohibition – it is simply a lifestyle choice which they are entitled to make in the same way that women across the country are allowed to choose whether or not to drive a motorbike, to be a stay-at-home-mother or to wear make-up or not.

These are decisions we are allowed to make and I didn’t hear mass outcries when the female grandchildren of the Queen were driven to her funeral when their male cousins walked.  Likewise, I don’t hear protestations of inequality and repression every time a woman walks down the aisle in a white wedding dress rather than a black trouser suit.

Criticising Charedi woman for this lifestyle choice – which, let’s face it, makes no difference to anyone else’s life – is just as repressive and belittling as the restrictive social norms from years ago when women were told how to conduct themselves.

What does it matter if Charedi women don’t drive?  Indeed, aren’t we being encouraged to get out of our cars to walk and use public transport more?  It’s hardly progressive to be telling us to use our cars.

But I recognise that Fletcher’s piece goes beyond driving.  She seeks to use anecdotal evidence to portray Charedi women as a repressed, discriminated and unhappy group.  She wants you to think that women in the community do not count and are treated as second-class citizens with no power or authority.

Well, let me tell you, we do count, we do make our voices heard and we do make an impact. We count on International Women’s Day and every other day of the year.  We count when we chair a Board meeting, we count when we are accepting awards on behalf of charities but, most importantly, we count when we are looking after our families and bringing up our children to be respectful, law-abiding and kind British citizens.

The importance of family is integral to how the Charedi community lives and women play an incredibly important role in this.

It is true, some women choose not to work but to devote their time and energies to looking after their children.  This is not to be sneered at and everyone within the community – men and women alike – respect those who do choose to stay at home.  Any parent will tell you that bringing up children is the hardest job they have and is the greatest responsibility they will ever have.  Let’s not dismiss this as a denial of rights or choice; but let’s see it for what it is – devoting one’s time and energy to raise the next generation.

I work day-in, day-out with women holding senior positions across the community.  They are chief executives of major charities, they are head teachers and they run successful businesses.  Those looking to criticise our community conveniently forget these facts when they launch yet another attack against us.

Fletcher asks you to pity the woman standing at the bus stop with a double buggy.  Don’t pity us for using public transport; pity us for this relentless attack on our way of life, for the continuous broadcasting of myths about our community and for the unjustified criticism of how we choose to live.

Enough is enough; the time has come for us to stand up for ourselves.  We need to be heard – not by our own community – our voice is heard loud and clear there – but amongst the wider community who seek to belittle our way of life.

So, I ask you, look at our charities and businesses and see how many of them have female directors and trustees, look at the number of women in full-time employment and come to Stamford Hill and see the number of women drivers; you might just have your misconceptions shattered.

  • Malky Davidovits is a community educator living in Stamford Hill. She serves as a trustee of community charity Sunbeams and works at the Interlink Foundation.

This article appeared in the Jewish News on 11/03/2023